GOP blocks vote on treaty recognizing rights for people with disabilities

Lee said he and 36 other senators, who've signed a letter, need more time to look at the treaty, which wouldn’t require any changes to U.S. laws or cost the government any money. The treaty requires countries that sign on to be more accessible for people with disabilities as well as dealing with education and hiring issues — things already under U.S. law through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

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“For various reasons we don’t think any treaty should come up during the lame duck time period and we will continue to oppose any treaty passage,” Lee said on the floor Thursday. “If it is true that it is too fast to move a treaty through during a lame duck, then it’s also too fast to move it through now.”

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.

Harkin said the United States needs to once again be a leader, not for the sake of the 54 million people living in America with disabilities but for the nearly 1 billion people around the world who don’t have the same rights as Americans with disabilities.

“My hope is that U.S. ratification would have a moral impact,” Harkin said. “That it would send a message across the world that it’s not OK to leave a baby with Down syndrome in the streets, that it’s not OK to warehouse people with disabilities and chain them to the wall.”

Harkin said Lee should allow the vote because the senators with concerns could always vote no, but he said he thinks the treaty would pass with overwhelming bipartisan support.