Democrats, too, became more partisan. Obama pushed through health care legislation without Republican support. Reid inserted himself into the presidential campaign, saying — without supplying any evidence — that GOP nominee Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes federal taxes for a decade.
The culture of Washington had shifted dramatically. In the Mitchell-Dole years, many members of Congress lived in the nation’s capital much of the year and socialized with colleagues in the other party. By the time of the 2012 session, fund-raising and home-state demands prompted many members to spend far less time in Washington.
Donald Ritchie, the Senate’s official historian, said some senators don’t have time to know their colleagues. “Someone will come into the room and will ask, ‘Who is that?’ Someone from across the aisle. They just don’t have the kind of opportunities they used to have,” Ritchie said. “One of the few times they get to see each other is when they are on the floor voting.”
Senate voting records show a stark difference between the sessions that ended in 1990 and 2012, with the rise in filibusters leading to a sharp drop-off in successful legislation. (It takes 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to stop a filibuster, often enabling the minority party to kill legislation.) The number of motions filed to stop filibusters rose from 38 to 115, while the number of Senate-introduced bills enacted into law dropped from 8.2 percent to 1.8 percent.
Mix in the proliferation of partisan-oriented media, and the outsized power of small but well-organized groups in the Internet age, and the fractures of the current political era become evident.
Thus was the stage set for the surprising outcome during Dole’s encore performance.
The first public sign of trouble came shortly after Moran announced he was joining a bipartisan group of supporters. Word spread that the Tea Party wanted to stop treaties that its members viewed as threats to American sovereignty.
Still, when Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John F. Kerry began a July 12, 2012, hearing on the treaty, passage seemed all but assured. Dole sent his strong endorsement. The US Chamber of Commerce, a key GOP ally, endorsed the measure, saying it would lead to “greater access and opportunities for individuals with disabilities throughout the world.”
Former President George H.W. Bush was enlisted to win over any remaining doubters, writing to the Senate that the treaty “would not require any changes to US law. It would have no impact on the federal budget,” while reminding senators that “disability rights issues have always enjoyed strong bipartisan support.”
Some of the most powerful testimony came from Bush’s former attorney general, Richard Thornburgh, who had worked on the ADA bill in 1990 and later served as undersecretary general of the United Nations. The issue was personal to Thornburgh; his son, Peter, had been seriously injured in a car accident and had mental and physical disabilities. Thornburgh testified that the treaty would “impose no new costs upon US taxpayers” and would not require any changes in the nation’s laws. The treaty simply would encourage other nations to follow the leadership of the United States in helping people with disabilities, Thornburgh testified.
Then a witness named Michael Farris stunned many in the hearing room as he sought to demolish the arguments for the treaty.
Farris was speaking in his role as the president of the Home School Legal Defense Fund, a group with 83,000 dues-paying families that he founded in 1983. The group monitors government actions that potentially impact home schooling and says its mission is “to defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children and to protect family freedoms.”
Farris, added to the witness list after Republicans on the committee learned of his objections to the treaty, testified that the treaty was “dangerous” to parents who teach disabled children at home. In a later radio interview, Farris would put his argument in the starkest terms: “The definition of disability is not defined in the treaty and so, my kid wears glasses, now they’re disabled; now the UN gets control over them.”
Kerry sounded sarcastic as he belittled Farris’s claims.
“So you believe that President George Herbert Walker Bush and Attorney General Thornburgh and majority leader Robert Dole, and a bunch of other people, just don’t understand the Constitution or can’t read the law?” Kerry asked Farris.Continued...