Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) began a hearing this morning on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by rattling off his achievements for the disabled.
The hearing, featuring three panels of testimony including Justice Department officials and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), was to push ratification of the treaty that senators likened to the Americans with Disabilities Act on a global scale.
“Like most of you, I have witnessed over time first-hand the challenges and discrimination of people with disabilities and the many ways in which they are prevented from fully participating in activities that most of us are privileged to take for granted,” Kerry said. “That’s why, early on in my career in the Senate, when I first came here, I served with Senator Lowell Weicker on the HELP Committee – what is now the HELP Committee – and I was Chairman for a brief period of time of something back then, anachronistically, called the ‘Handicapped Subcommittee.’ We actually did the first work that unleashed technology and that has produced assisted devices that help people with challenges be able to speak and communicate. I’m proud of that.”
“I cosponsored the Ending the Medicare Disability Waiting Period Act to phase out the 24-month waiting period for individuals with disabilities to become eligible for Medicare benefits,” Kerry continued. “It’s why I happily worked with Senator Pryor on the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which improves access to audio and visual materials for the deaf and blind.”
“And it’s why I recently introduced the Children’s Mental Health Accessibility Act to provide states an option to serve children and adolescents on Medicaid with intensive home or community-based mental health treatment services, and also to replace the also anachronistically term ‘mentally retarded’ in the Social Security Act with the more appropriate term of ‘intellectually disabled,’” he said.
Kerry would later note that other commitments meant he had to slip away and wouldn’t be able to chair the entire hearing, therefore Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) would fill in.
One of those testifying today, Steven Groves of the Heritage Foundation, has argued against the treaty on the basis that “joining the Disabilities Convention would obligate the federal government to defer to an unaccountable committee of academics and ‘disability experts’ in Switzerland in violation of the principles of U.S. sovereignty and federalism” and “existing U.S. law and a multitude of federal agencies already protect Americans with disabilities against discrimination.”
Republican backers including Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
It continues Kerry’s push of UN treaties in the last weeks of the 112th Congress. Last month, he continued his drive for ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty.