Any suspicion that the political right, after suffering a defeat on the debt ceiling and facing threats from business donors, is losing its clout can be dismissed by the fight over the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.
The treaty has been ratified by 141 countries. In the United States, it is backed by the White House, former President George H.W. Bush, the major disability and veterans’ advocacy groups, and businesses.
Senate Republicans, however, already defeated the treaty in 2012, and it now faces an uphill slog to get the two-thirds vote needed for ratification. Right-wing critics — led by former Senator Rick Santorum, the Heritage Foundation and home-schoolers — said that adopting it would allow global enforcers to determine the treatment of Americans with disabilities and the permissibility of home schooling, and that it would ease access to abortion.
In reality, the treaty is modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. It states that nations must ensure that people with disabilities get the same rights and are treated with the same dignity as all others. It might well pressure other countries to adopt American standards.
Proponents say American leadership is important, a demonstration of the soft power of ideals and values. If passage emboldens other nations to elevate their standards, it will make life easier for Americans with disabilities, including veterans, when traveling outside the United States.
Despite strong opposition from Senate Republicans, led by Tennessee’s Bob Corker, the treaty has a distinctively Republican flavor. The Americans With Disabilities Act was the signature domestic achievement of Mr. Bush’s presidency, and the treaty was negotiated and supported at the United Nations by his son’s administration. The most important champion of the treaty is former Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, a disabled World War II veteran; it is supported by another former party leader, Bill Frist, a physician. Its chief backers in the current Senate are John Barrasso of Wyoming, another physician who is one of the most conservative members of the chamber, and John McCain of Arizona, a disabled veteran.
Veterans’ groups backing the treaty include the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Wounded Warrior Project. It is embraced by the United States Chamber of Commerce and companies like Nike, Walmart Stores, Coca-Cola and IBM.
The opposition from Mr. Santorum, the Heritage Foundation, a slice of the home-schooling movement and a few right-wing Catholic organizations would seem a mismatch. Yet these groups are vocal, and they capitalize on many Republicans’ fears of challenges from the right. The disabilities community is not that well organized, nor does it rank among the big campaign contributors.
Mr. Corker says his opposition is based solely on the dangers the treaty would pose to national sovereignty and the threat that it would supersede United States law and states’ rights. He cites a 1920 Supreme Court ruling on a migratory-bird treaty as precedent.
In the Senate, supporters are writing in “reservations, declarations and understandings,” attesting that nothing in the treaty would affect current law. This is a common practice, The Economist magazine notes, for treaties ratified by the United States and other countries.
It makes the Corker argument specious, says Richard L. Thornburgh, who was attorney general during George H.W. Bush’s administration and is an advocate of the treaty. “These reservations attached to a treaty are part of the treaty,” he says. “There is nothing in this treaty that would allow what critics allege.”
Mr. Dole says that ratification is such an easy call that when he ran the Senate, it “would have passed by voice vote.” He remains optimistic it will pass, though he says he is worried because “a few senators aren’t returning my calls.”
This astounds Tim Shriver, the chairman of the Special Olympics. “What values here do these opponents not believe in?” he asks. “This treaty brings to the table a place where America is the shining light on the hill.”
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/24/us/politics/on-disabilities-treaty-the-right-fights-with-the-right.html?_r=0 Albert R. Hunt