WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is pushing for ratification of a U.N. accord on the rights of the disabled.
The move comes less than a year after Senate Republicans rejected pleas for its passage from two former GOP presidential nominees and delivered a stinging rebuke to a global treaty modeled largely on American law.
One part of the treaty, Article 25(e), relates to use of disability information in life and health insurance underwriting.
It’s unclear whether the administration has won over Republican skeptics, but top aides to President Barack Obama are lobbying hard for another vote.
Secretary of State John Kerry will testify later this week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power has made several trips to the Capitol for meetings with senior lawmakers. Officials have sought to mobilize veterans and disabled groups, religious organizations and the business community in support of the treaty.
“We want to lead the struggle to make these rights universal,” Power told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “It would be a very good thing internationally if disability rights were promoted and respected to the extent they are in this country.”
The treaty aims to ensure the disabled enjoy equal rights as their fellow citizens, extending many provisions introduced by the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act that was passed by Congress and then signed into law by President George H.W. Bush more than two decades ago. Advocates say U.S. ratification would benefit American veterans, families, students and others wishing to live, travel, work or study overseas by offering the United States a platform to help other governments extend more services for disabled people.
And they argue that little would be demanded of the United States, which has set standards for everything from ensuring wheelchair access and handicapped-accessible toilets in public buildings to rules forbidding workplace discrimination against people with disabilities.
“Ratification of this treaty is not going to affect American law,” Power declared.
But opposition runs deep among Republicans, and securing the two-thirds majority needed for Senate passage is no sure thing. In December the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities fell five votes short as only 61 senators voted in favor and 38 senators — all Republicans — voted against.
Even the presence of a frail, wheelchair-using Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader and the Republicans’ 1996 presidential candidate, failed to sway party colleagues. Dole, who was wounded during World War II, was joined by Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential candidate who had disabling injuries in Vietnam, and then-Sen. Dick Lugar, until this year the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, in making the conservative case for adoption of the treaty.
Their effort was knocked down by an equally passionate campaign spearheaded by tea party favorite Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. He warned the agreement could lead to the state, rather than parents, determining the best interests of disabled children on issues such as home schooling. Opponents also claimed the treaty could lead to more abortions by guaranteeing the disabled equal access to reproductive health care. Lee’s office declined to comment on the administration’s new effort, beyond saying the senator remained opposed for the same reasons.
The conservative Heritage Foundation also is against ratification. It says the pact would subject America to a biased U.N. review every four years and do nothing to advance American interests internationally.