Our sadly dysfunctional Senate

Far-right fringe Republicans block an innocuous disabled-rights treaty

For an example of just how off the wall today’s Republican Party has become, consider what happened last week in the U.S. Senate, which once upon a time could call itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

The senators were considering whether to ratify a United Nations treaty on rights for people with disabilities. The treaty is an outgrowth of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act, which Republican President George H. W. Bush signed into law in 1990.

What it would do is encourage other countries to bring their treatment of the disabled up to the gold standard created by the United States, making life easier for disabled Americans traveling in foreign lands as well as those residing there.

Approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July with bipartisan support, the treaty, as committee Chairman John Kerry explained, simply “says that you can’t discriminate against the disabled. It says that other countries have to do what we did 22 years ago when we set the example for the world and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

To quell concerns that the treaty somehow cedes authority to the U.N., a common paranoia of the far right, the committee passed a resolution that the United States would surrender none of its sovereign authority by joining the convention, and that the treaty would have no power over federal, state or local law.

That wasn’t good enough for the far-right extremists in the Senate, however. They were convinced the treaty would infringe on U.S. sovereignty or allow the government to dictate how parents must raise their disabled children. Even the presence on the Senate floor of 89-year-old former Sen. Bob Dole, who was rolled out in a wheelchair to join fellow Republicans John McCain and Richard Lugar in supporting the treaty, failed to quell the fevered opposition. The treaty, which required two-thirds approval, fell short by five votes. Only eight Republicans voted yea.

Afterward Kerry issued a statement, saying it was “one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate, and it needs to be a wake-up call about a broken institution that’s letting down the American people.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised another vote on the treaty in the next Congress. Let’s hope reason and compassion prevail.