End delay on disabilities treaty

Some issues bring into focus the inanity of a do-nothing Congress. U.S. Senate ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which likely won’t be voted on until after the August recess, offers a case study. Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, now 91 and requiring a wheelchair, was back on the hill elbowing former colleagues.

“As a Republican, I don’t want to see a headline saying ‘Republicans vote against disabled Americans and disabled veterans,’” Dole said Wednesday.

This easy call isn’t about uranium enrichment or international sanctions but the rights and inherent dignity of those with disabilities. Basic tenets include the right to education and to vote, consistent with the rights of able-bodied citizens.

In 2012, the Senate failed to ratify the treaty by the constitutionally required two-thirds majority. The paranoid handful who opposed the treaty cite concerns that it would affect U.S. jurisprudence. In fact, the mission is to sell the rest of the world on a U.S. touchstone, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Why the language about voting, education and health? Because many countries around the world — 80 percent of those living with disabilities are in the developing world — do not approach disability as a human rights question.

Opponents such as former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum provide a sharp contrast to treaty supporters such as Dole, a disabled World War II veteran (20 veterans groups endorse the treaty.)

Writing in USA Today last year, Sens. John McCain and Robert Menendez made a compelling argument. “The U.S. set the global gold standard for disabilities rights when we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990,” McCain and Menendez wrote.

“The act not only improved the lives of Americans living with disabilities, but also inspired other nations to upgrade their laws to recognize that these universal values apply to all citizens. The disabilities treaty before the Senate today is an extension of that act, providing a venue for discussions on disabled access policy internationally. That’s a discussion Americans must lead.”

The treaty does not curtail U.S. sovereignty, McCain and Menendez note, plus it brandishes U.S. values and leadership on matters of human equality.

In international politics, finding common cause is difficult for a reason. The Disabilities Convention illustrates the converse, that domestic politics can gum up what is clear and just for no good reason at all.