It was 20 years after that speech when Dole worked closely with Mitchell to bring the Americans with Disabilities Act to a vote. Concerns were raised by business groups and local governments about the cost of expanding rights for people with disabilities. But Republicans and Democrats came to a remarkable agreement on disabilities that became known as “The Pact.” Tony Coelho, a former House Democratic whip who introduced the bill in his chamber of Congress, said that under the pact, “we would always do things in a bipartisan way on disability legislation.”
The bill was passed in 1989 in the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan margin, 76 to 8, and passed the House the following year. As President George H. W. Bush signed it into law, he said the legislation “has made the United States the international leader on this human rights issue.”
Bush’s son, President George W. Bush, followed up by negotiating the international treaty on disabilities in 2006. There were two crucial steps to go. The Obama administration made the United States a signatory to the treaty in 2009. But under US law, treaties don’t take effect unless they are ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
Fast forward to 2012.
Supporters hoped the time was right to win ratification. Of the 193 countries in the United Nations, 155 have signed the treaty and 129 have ratified it, including countries such as Afghanistan, Cuba, and Russia. In an effort to win Republican support, treaty backers asked Dole to take up the fight. The old warrior, while weakened from his most recent hospitalization, promptly agreed.
No one disputed the difficulties faced by many of the 1 billion people worldwide with disabilities; in many developing countries, most children with disabilities don’t go to school and have little chance of gainful employment, not to mention basic accommodation, according to the State Department. Ratifying the treaty, supporters said, would spread American leadership around the globe as well as create new markets for US-made disabilities products.
For a Congress that had been divided by debates over the deficit, health care, taxes, and other matters, passage of a Republican-brokered treaty with no direct cost to US taxpayers, aimed at helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people, seemed like a sure win. Republicans began lining up to join Democrats to back the measure. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said the treaty would advance “fundamental values of equality and human dignity around the world.”
Most importantly, the two Republican senators from Kansas were expected to carry the torch that had been lit by Dole 22 years earlier. Kansas Senator Pat Roberts spoke privately with Dole, leaving him hopeful, but Roberts said nothing publicly.
Moran, meanwhile, offered a public and seemingly unequivocal show of support. He authorized a press release in which he was one of three Republicans in a bipartisan group of senators who “announced their support for US ratification” of the treaty.
“Each person has the inherent right to life and should have the opportunity to pursue happiness, participate in society, and be treated equally before the law,” Moran said in a written statement issued May 25, 2012. The treaty “advances these fundamental values by standing up for the rights of those with disabilities, including our nation’s veterans and service members, and respecting the dignity of all.”
A month later Moran joined the same bipartisan group in a meeting at the Capitol at which the strategy for ratifying the treaty was discussed. Moran, who had been elected to the Senate in 2010, was considered the key to winning over other conservative Republicans.
A shift in the Capitol
The Senate of 2011-12, in which the treaty would be voted upon, seemed barely recognizable to those who had witnessed the extraordinary productivity of the one that had convened 22 years earlier. But the partnership of the Mitchell-Dole era had been replaced by the bitter, often-unworkable relationship of majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky.
Years earlier, McConnell had been in that 1989-90 session and often had followed Dole’s moderate, bipartisan lead, voting for the ADA.
But McConnell, like his party, had become more conservative over the years, amplified by the creation of the Tea Party movement, and McConnell would famously say that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”Continued...