As the U.S. Senate begins consideration of an international disability rights treaty, it remains uncertain whether or not the United States will join.
Earlier this week, senators voted to debate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The treaty calls for greater community access and a better standard of living for people with disabilities worldwide.
However, after hours of speeches on the Senate floor Tuesday, public talk of the treaty grew quiet and lawmakers have yet to hold a vote on ratification.
The Obama administration, which urged the Senate to ratify the convention, says it requires no change to U.S. law. Supporters say that joining the international agreement would allow the U.S. to take a leadership position on the world stage when it comes to disability rights and would also help ensure that Americans with disabilities enjoy the same protections afforded them domestically when they travel abroad.
“The U.S. is the gold standard in terms of the rights of persons with disabilities. The impact of this treaty is to take that gold standard and extend it to countries where they’ve never heard of disability rights,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who has led efforts to ratify.
But opposition to the treaty has been fierce, with conservatives and home schooling groups arguing that ratification would pose a threat to U.S. sovereignty and would jeopardize the ability of parents to determine what’s best for their kids, claims that supporters say are simply untrue.
Former GOP senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, whose daughter has special needs, has come out against the effort, joining Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, at a press conference this week to denounce the treaty.
Officials in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office say they are continuing to work on amendments to the convention, but did not offer a clear timetable for moving forward.
Disability advocates backing ratification of the treaty are hopeful that a vote will take place next week, said David Morrissey of the United States International Council on Disabilities.
The U.S. signed the convention in 2009, but Senate approval is required in order to make participation official. To ratify the treaty, a two-thirds majority or 67 senators would need to vote in favor of it.
Already, 126 countries around the word have ratified the disability treaty, according to the U.N.