Heller: Tin Foil Hat or Chamber of Commerce Flunkie? (UpDate)

Vote 219

And there we have it. A treaty needs a 2/3rds majority to be ratified by the Senate and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) donned his tin foil chapeau to join fellow conspiracy theorists in the failure of the UN Treaty on the Rights of the Disabled.    What could possibly have gone wrong with a Treaty based on U.S. statutes, negotiated by the Bush Administration, and supported by 300 disability advocacy organizations, 21 veterans organizations including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Wounded Warriors Project?  What might be controversial about a convention signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126?   [Reuters] Paranoia?

“The opposition was led by tea party favorite Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who argued that the treaty by its very nature threatened U.S. sovereignty. Specifically he expressed concerns that the treaty could lead to the state, rather than parents, determining what was in the best interest of disabled children in such areas as home schooling, and that language in the treaty guaranteeing the disabled equal rights to reproductive health care could lead to abortions. Parents, Lee said, will “raise their children with the constant looming threat of state interference.” [HuffPo]

Really? The Black Helicopter Blue Helmet Brigades are going to swoop into the Silver State and ‘force’ parents of disabled children to change educational plans? Allow disabled individuals the right to necessary medical procedures — Heaven Forefend! — a disabled woman might elect to have an abortion rather than risk her life during an unsustainable pregnancy?

Senator Heller, Where’s that “constant looming threat of state interference?”  Nevada’s junior Senator was pleased to issue a press release indicating he’d voted for military spending yesterday — but there is nary a peep on his government sponsored web page about his vote against the rights of veterans who return from military operations with disabilities.  Do we have the message correctly?  By Senator Heller’s lights it is patriotic to vote in favor of Defense spending, but unconscionable to vote for a “constant looming threat of state interference” when asked to approve a measure supporting the rights of disabled members of the military when they return home?

But, Think Of The Children!  Well, Senator Heller has thought of children before — he voted against SCHIP legislation whenever he was given an opportunity.  Which might we suppose keeps parents of disabled children awake more often — the looming threat of the UN marching in to revise a child’s IEP? Or, the looming threat that some insurance company won’t cover a child with a pre-existing medical condition?  Senator Heller’s call for repealing the Affordable Care Act if actuated would certainly make that nightmare come true.

Is Senator Heller fearful that the terms of the convention might be construed to allow a disabled woman for whom a pregnancy would likely be fatal to undergo the procedure?  He was only too happy to announce his opposition to the Affordable Care Act which requires insurance corporations to cover pre-natal and well infant medical services.  He was adamant about repealing the ACA and its provisions requiring insurance corporations to include childhood immunizations in basic policies.  So, now he’s worried about the children and their mothers?

Perhaps it isn’t so much a matter of tin foil hats as  it is Senator Heller’s fear of offending the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has a history of opposition to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and which opposed the restoration of the ADA in 2007 (letter to Congress pdf).   The Chamber continues to oppose any rewriting of regulations to enhance the rights of disabled persons:

“Much of the justification for the proposed stricter standards is based on anecdotal evidence with no basis in fact. We are concerned that the process employed by the ATBCB in raising the standards was lacking, and that the resulting substantive standards are based on nothing more than subjective opinion. We will continue to monitor all developments, either by the ATBCB, OMB, or DOJ, related to this issue.” [Chamber of Commerce]

Merciful Heavens, we (according to the Chamber of Commerce) must do nothing to facilitate access to business and commerce, or to enhance the prospects of persons with disabilities — if it might in any way encroach on the corporate bottom line!

So, with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) a disabled veteran of the Viet Nam War, and with former Senator and GOP standard bearer Robert Dole (KS) a disabled veteran from World War II looking on… Senator Dean Heller joined the Tin Foil Hat Crowd, while genuflecting to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and voted against ratification of the convention.  Shame.

UPDATE: Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) issued a statement on the subject which reads in part –

“This treaty, already ratified by 125 countries, would hold foreign nations to the same high standard of treatment the U.S. already maintains for people with disabilities.  And it would safeguard American citizens traveling, working and serving abroad.  The treaty has the support of veterans groups and disability groups from around the country.  It wouldn’t cost taxpayers a penny. It wouldn’t require any changes to existing U.S. law. And the issue is as bipartisan as they come. This is what one Senator said about the treaty:  “Protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, ANY person, is not a political issue. It is a human issue, regardless of where in the world a disabled person strives to live a normal, independent life where basic rights and accessibilities are available. Disability rights and protections have always been a bipartisan issue and ratifying this treaty should be no different.”

That wasn’t some ultra-liberal. That was Senator John McCain, a veteran, who broke with the extremists and Tea Partiers in his party and voted to ratify the treaty.
The Convention also had strong support from a number of other leading Republicans, including President George H.W. Bush and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.  Senator Dole, a disabled veteran of World War II who led the fight to pass the treaty, was here yesterday urging Republicans to support it.

One by one, those Republicans greeted the 89-year-old war hero and patriot, who just last week was in Walter Reed hospital. And then, one by one, all but a handful of them voted against the treaty – ensuring its failure.  But their professed reasons for opposing it had no basis in fact. Even many Republicans acknowledge that.  There is no justification for sending a message / that every individual around the world / who strives to lead a full and productive life / in spite of a disability / does not deserve the same just treatment.  There is no justification for telling disabled Americans – especially those who have sacrificed their very bodies for our freedom – that they do not deserve the same protections abroad / that they do at home.”

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