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Tom Zirpoli: GOP vote a national embarassment

Republicans in the Senate recently voted against a United Nations treaty that would have made two American laws the worldwide standard of care for children and adults with disabilities.

The first law is the Individual with Disabilities Education Act of 1973, signed by Republican President Gerald Ford and endorsed by every American president since. The second is the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990 and signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush. It, too, has been supported and updated since.

The treaty, called the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is not only based upon these two American laws signed by two Republican presidents, but also, the wording of the treaty was negotiated with the United Nations by a third Republican President, George W. Bush, in 2006.

Here you have a treaty based upon the good work of three Republican presidents, killed in the United States Senate by a group of tea party Republicans. The sea-change for Republicans, once considered champions for the disabled community, is staggering. And when you consider that the treaty was strongly supported by advocates of disabled veterans, you have to wonder why the GOP would risk alienating a group representing about 10 percent of Americans.

In addition to the three GOP presidents directly and indirectly involved in the development of this treaty, it was also supported by former Republican presidential candidates Sen. Robert Dole and Sen. John McCain. Rumor has it that many Republicans promised Dole, a disabled war veteran, their support for the treaty, but voted against it after significant pressure from tea party leaders.

In the end, only eight Republicans voted for the treaty. The others were scared off by tea party leaders who were against the treaty for the simple reason that it came from the United Nations. Members of the tea party believe that the United Nations poses a threat to America's sovereignty.

"I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society," said Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma. Yet the treaty includes no mandates, no new legislation and advocates for no new rights that Americans with disabilities don't already enjoy.

Again, the purpose of the treaty was to encourage the rest of the world to bring up their standards of care and education for their citizens with disabilities to American standards.

The treaty is not Anti-American, as Inhofe states, but pro-American. It holds up America's treatment of people with disabilities as a model for the rest of the world to follow.

With 38 Republicans voting against the treaty, the Senate could not muster the two-thirds majority it needed to ratify it.

The U.N. treaty has already been ratified by 126 countries including China and Russia. My guess it that the only other nations that will not ratify this treaty will be where people with disabilities are still hidden away in shame because of religious mythology, ideological extremism and ignorance.

This is an embarrassment for our nation. The GOP didn't just vote against a treaty advocating for the civil rights of people with disabilities, they voted against the American standard of care for the world's most vulnerable citizens.

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