D.C. Digest 12/9


WASHINGTON, D.C. — An international treaty to assure basic rights for the disabled failed last week in the Senate despite a personal plea from former Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole.

Dole, 89 and a wounded World War II veteran, was on the Senate floor in a wheelchair to observe the vote. Democrats voted unanimously to ratify the U.N. treaty while Republicans voted 38-8 against it.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke in favor of ratifying the 2006 treaty.

“What this treaty says is very simple: It just says that people can’t discriminate against the disabled. It says 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,” Kerry said.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., argued against ratification saying there was no way the treaty could be enforced against nations that have no desire to improve their conditions.

Kyl said the treaty “would offer cover to regimes that have no intention of actually helping their citizens, while needlessly tying the hands of countries such as the United States that have actually made great strides in this area.”

Erik Voeten, an associate professor of geopolitics and justice in world affairs at Georgetown University, said ratification of the treaty would likely have had a “small positive impact” for the disabled at very little cost.

The Senate tally was 61-38 but a two-thirds majority was needed to ratify a treaty.

Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., voted for the treaty.

RUSSIA TRADE

The Senate approved lifting Cold War-era trade restrictions with Russia now that it has joined the World Trade Organization.

Russia, which has 142 million consumers, joined the WTO in August and must now play by the same trade rules as other WTO members, including the United States.

The U.S. cannot take advantage of lowered tariffs and other trade-easing provisions that come with WTO membership until it grants Russia permanent normal trade relations.

“The only country that will be disadvantaged if we fail to pass this bill will be our own, and that particularly means our own businesses,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

The Senate voted 92-4 in favor of passage. The House approved the bill last month.

Murray and Cantwell voted for the bill.

HOUSE CURTAILS LUNACY

The House last week overwhelmingly approved legislation to strike the word “lunatic” from federal laws.

North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad introduced the bill at the request of a constituent who believed the word to be outdated and inappropriate, and that it contributes to the stigmatization of mental health conditions.

Removing the word “lunatic” from the United States Code would have no impact on law but would “reflect our nation’s modern understanding of mental health conditions,” said Conrad, a Democrat. The bill cleared the Senate unanimously in May.

The House approved it 398-1. Congressman Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, was the lone dissenting voice.

Congressman Norm Dicks, D-Wash., and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., voted for the bill.