Republicans oppose vote on UN disability treaty
Senate plans to take up a U.N. treaty espousing equal rights for the disabled drew immediate opposition Monday from some Republicans wary of the treaty and asserting that the Senate should not be considering international treaties during a lame-duck session.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that on Tuesday he would ask the Senate to consider legislation to ratify the U.N.'s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The chances of success are not good. It takes 60 votes to move a bill to the floor and a two-thirds majority to ratify a treaty. In September, 36 Senate Republicans wrote a letter saying they would oppose any treaty brought up during the lame-duck session.
On Monday Utah Republican Mike Lee, joined by former GOP senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, said he would "do everything I can to block" ratification.
"I don't anticipate it will go anywhere," Lee said at a news conference.
Lee said the treaty, which states that disabled people around the world should enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms, could subject U.S. law to a U.N. bureaucracy. He said he had "grave concerns for the sovereignty" of the United States.
Santorum, accompanied by his wife Karen and three of his seven children, including a disabled daughter, focused on a provision that says the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration for children with disabilities. Home schooling groups and others have said this could lead to the state, and not the parents, making decisions on what is in the best interest of a child, including whether home schooling is appropriate. That provision, he said, is "a direct assault on us and our family."
Opponents have also objected to language saying that people with disabilities should have access to the same sexual and reproductive health programs as others, arguing that could be linked to abortions.
Supporters of the treaty, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., says its main purpose is to encourage other countries to implement the same rights for the disabled already ensured in the United States. He says the treaty requires no changes in U.S. law and that the U.N. committee created by the treaty only has the power to recommend, and cannot force individual nations to change their laws.
What the treaty does, Kerry said at the July committee vote, "is provide a critical tool as we work to ensure that American citizens, including our men and women in uniform and our disabled veterans, are free to travel, work and live abroad."
The treaty was signed by the George W. Bush administration in 2006 and was signed by President Barack Obama in 2009. Kerry's committee approved it in July on a 13-6 vote but in August Republicans blocked a Democratic attempt to have the treaty ratified on a voice vote.
The United Nations says that 154 nations have signed the treaty and 126 countries have ratified it.