WASHINGTON - Former Republican Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas appeared the Senate floor in a wheelchair today, just six days after he was released from the hospital, to make a last minute appeal for senators to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, but his appearance did not sway enough Republicans to support the treaty.
It failed by a vote of 61-38, falling short of the super majority needed for passage.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities would declare that all citizens, regardless of ability, deserve to live in dignity, safety and equality under the law. If it had been voted through, the United States would have been added as a party to the convention.
The convention would not create any new rights that don't already exist under U.S. law and would not require changes to existing legislation. In fact, it would encourage other countries to model their treatment of disabled people around the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, which was spearheaded by Dole and signed into law by President George H. W Bush.
The issue came under extreme opposition from some conservatives, providing a highly charged and at times emotional debate, pitting some Republicans against those in their own party.
Opponents, led by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah., argued that the international standards could erode U.S. sovereignty and should not be addressed during a lame duck session of Congress. Lee charged that the treaty would threaten the rights of parents in the United States to "determine the best education, treatment and care for their disabled children."
"I simply cannot support a treaty that threatens the right of parents to raise their children with the constant looming threat of state interference," Lee said.
Proponents of the treaty dismissed those concerns - and others like from former Sen. Rick Santorum, who said that language in the treaty guaranteeing the disabled equal rights to reproductive health care could lead to abortions - as "myth."
"We're facing an entirely fictitious set of arguments on abortion, on home schooling, on lame-duck sessions; all of their arguments have been contradicted by the facts and the law," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said, "How is it possible that a treaty that according to our Supreme Court offers no recourse, no change in American law, no access to American courts, how is it possible that such a treaty could threaten anybody in our country? The answer is simple, it doesn't, and it can't."
The treaty would create a committee that can issue non-binding recommendations and suggestions. It would not have the power to change laws or take any action in the United States, as was argued by some Republicans.
Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., split with his fellow Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and said he opposed the treaty because it could used as a "cover" for countries that do not uphold rights.
"I don't believe that we need to ratify an international convention to demonstrate our firm commitment in this area," Kyl said. "Just as with many treaties before this one, the CRPD would offer cover to regimes that have no intention of actually helping their citizens, while needlessly tying the hands of countries like the United States that have actually made great strides in this area."
Eight Senate Republicans broke ranks with their party and voted for the treaty: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Richard Lugar of Indiana, McCain, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.