Harkin yes, Grassley no as Senate rejects treaty on disabled rights

Today the U.S. Senate fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Senator Tom Harkin, the godfather of the Americans with Disabilities Act, has been the Senate’s leading proponent of ratifying this treaty. Senator Chuck Grassley voted no, along with most of his Republican colleagues. Background on the treaty and statements from Harkin and Grassley are after the jump.

Eight Republicans voted with the entire Democratic caucus to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (click here for the 61-38 roll call), but under the Constitution, treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds majority vote.

Some conservative activists have portrayed the treaty as part of a “hidden abortion agenda and “a danger to homeschool families,” as well as a threat to parental rights generally.

Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the treaty in September, saying they needed more time to study the issue.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) pointed out that the treaty was written years ago and the administration has been giving U.S. agencies time to determine if the treaty would require any additional action from Congress. Harkin said the agencies spent an entire year determining that the United States is already in compliance with the treaty and that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been looking at the treaty for months.

“I don’t know what it would take to satisfy my colleague from Utah,” Harkin said. “It took agencies more than a year to go through and make sure there is no conflict … I don’t know what would satisfy him … it’s an almost impossible barrier.

“This is not something that sprung up over night.”

Durbin and Harkin stressed that the bill would benefit Americans with disabilities who travel to other countries that don’t have the same ADA standards.

“We live in a very mobile society,” Harkin said. “People with disabilities should be able to live, travel, study abroad freely just as they do here in the United States.”

Harkin stressed that the reason the United States would not have to pass any additional laws to comply is because the country has been the leader for the world on disability issues. He added that 116 other countries that would have to pass laws to comply have signed onto the treaty, include the European Union.

In his statement on the Senate floor today, Harkin urged his colleagues not to be driven by “unfounded fears” about the treaty’s provisions:

Harkin provided more reasons to approve the treaty in this statement to the July 12 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“Good Morning.  I would like to thank Chairman Kerry and the Committee for holding this hearing seeking input from others about the importance of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or the “CRPD”.  I appreciate this opportunity to testify today on an issue that has been a central priority for me since I was first elected to the Senate in 1984.

“Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Lugar and members of the Committee, one of my greatest joys in the Senate has been my work with Senators Dole, McCain and others on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.  The ADA stands for a simple proposition-that disability is a natural part of the human experience and that all people with disabilities have a right to make choices, pursue meaningful careers, and participate fully in all aspects of society.

“Thanks to the ADA, our country is a more welcoming place not just for people with a variety of disabilities, but for everyone.

“Twenty-two years ago this month, President Bush gathered hundreds of Americans with disabilities on the White House lawn for the ADA signing ceremony.  At the time, he noted: “This historic act is the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities-the first.  Its passage has made the United States the international leader on this human rights issue.”

“Thanks to the ADA and other US laws, America has shown the rest of the world how to honor the basic human rights of children and adults with disabilities; how to integrate them into society; and how to remove barriers to their full participation in activities that most Americans take for granted.  Our support for disability rights has inspired a global movement that led the United Nations to adopt the CRPD.  Our legal framework influenced the substance of the Convention and is informing its implementation in the 117 countries that have signed and ratified the CRPD.

“I am very grateful for the long history of leadership of both Senators Dole and McCain on disability issues, going back to before the ADA.  I also want to acknowledge the leadership and support of Senators Barrasso, Durbin, Moran, Coons and Udall, all of whom have publicly expressed their strong support for ratification of the CRPD.

“By ratifying this convention, the United States will be reaffirming our commitment to our citizens with disabilities.  Americans with disabilities, including disabled veterans, should be able to live, travel, study and work abroad with the same freedoms and access that they enjoy in the United States.  And as the state parties to the convention come together to grapple with the best ways to make progress and remove barriers, we should be at the table with them helping them learn from our experience.

“The Administration has submitted reservations, understandings and declarations that make clear that US ratification of the CRPD will not require any change in US law and will have no fiscal impact.  My hope is that US ratification of the CRPD will have a moral impact.  My hope is that it will send a signal to the rest of the world that it is not okay to leave a baby with Down syndrome on the side of the road to die; not okay to warehouse adults with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities in institutions chained to the bars of a cell when their only “crime” is having a disability; not okay to refuse to educate children because they are blind or deaf or use a wheelchair; not okay to prevent disabled people from voting, getting married, owning property, or having children; not okay to rebuild infrastructures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, and other war-torn or disaster-stricken areas without improving the accessibility of the infrastructure at the same time.

“I thank this Committee for scheduling today’s hearing.  I commend you for recognizing the long history of bipartisan support for disability rights in this county.  And I urge the Committee to report favorably on the treaty and recommend that the Senate give its advice and consent to ratification.”

After today’s vote, Harkin released this statement:

Harkin: Senate Failure to Ratify CRPD “Shameful”

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Senate sponsor of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, released the following statement after the Senate voted 61-38 against ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

“Today’s vote is terribly disappointing to me, and to disability advocates around the country. The arguments made against ratifying the CRPD were misinformed and damaging, and a minority of Senators blocked important progress on human rights based on fictitious rationale. This treaty would not have undermined America’s sovereignty or turned over too much power to the United Nations; it would have reaffirmed America’s rightful place as the world leader in rights for people with disabilities. Since the passage of the ADA, we have led the way in integrating people with disabilities into every aspect of our society, and this failure to live up to that mantle marks a shameful day in our history. Disability advocates will not give up this fight, and neither will I.”

Grassley explained his opposition in this floor statement:

Congressional Record Statement of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

regarding the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mr. President – The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has the admirable goal of advancing the interests and rights of the disabled across the world.  However, I have great concerns about acceding to this Convention.  I’m also disappointed that the Senate will dedicate just two hours of debate to consider this Convention, without the ability for any Senators to offer or consider worthy amendments.

U.S. leadership in advancing and safeguarding the rights of the disabled is unmatched.  The United States is the leader on disability issues.  It’s for this reason that the Convention is modeled on the disability rights laws of the United States.  However, I have serious doubts that simply joining the Convention will lead to greater U.S. influence in promoting disability rights abroad.  The ability of the United States to lead on this issue is not and should not be dependent upon joining this Convention.  We can lead on disability rights abroad because we lead on disability rights at home.

Joining this Convention will have no impact on the disability rights of Americans in this country.  Americans with disabilities are already afforded the rights contained with the treaty.   Many Federal and State laws protect the rights of the disabled, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Even proponents of the Convention acknowledge that it will not enhance the rights of individuals with disabilities in America.

We have made great strides in disability policy in America.  Laws which I authored, such as the Family Opportunity Act and Money Follows the Person, not only gave the disabled health care coverage but gave them real self-determination in that health care coverage.  In the future, I will continue to work to protect coverage of the disabled during difficult budgetary times and work to find solutions for the disabled that allow for coordination of support services across all an individual’s needs.  While I respect the concerns and goals of supporters of this treaty, we should not let this take the place of focusing on problems and solutions here in America.

However, becoming a party to the Convention would subject the United States to the eighteen-member Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  This Committee is created to monitor the implementation of the Convention and provide conclusions and recommendations with regard to State Party’s treaty reports.   I have serious concerns about the infringement upon U.S. sovereignty by a committee tasked with providing criticisms and recommendations for the United States on our disability laws.

Further, the Convention raises additional concerns by unnecessarily including references in the area of “sexual and reproductive health” and the “best interests of the child.”  These provisions call into question the purpose of the Convention regarding abortion rights and the fundamental rights of parents to determine how best to raise their children.

It is for these reasons, along with the decision of the Majority Leader to shut out the rights of Senators by prohibiting the consideration of any amendments, that I oppose this Convention.  I yield.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.

  • This was a low point for Senate Republicans.

    There was a compelling diary about this posted today on Daily Kos. It seems that some of those who voted no had previously promised to vote yes.

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