Coming to Lame Duck Tomorrow: Controversial UN Disabilities Treaty

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a proponent of the treaty, said on the Senate floor this evening that the treaty wouldn't affect current abortions laws with its nonbinding recommendations.

“With respect to abortion, this is a disabilities treaty and has nothing to do with abortion,” he said. “Trying to turn this into an abortion debate is bad politics and just wrong.”

In the end, three Republicans joined the committee's 10 Democrats in pushing the treaty to the floor: Sens. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

Two-thirds of the chamber must vote yes to ratify the treaty. The procedural vote last Tuesday to move forward with the treaty vote fell short of the threshold needed for ratification, with 61 yea votes (including nine Republicans) and 36 nays.

An even greater hurdle to overcome than objections about the treaty's content may be objections about the treaty's timing.

In September, 36 senators sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asking that no treaties be brought to the floor during the lame-duck session.

"In the way of a Presidential election, we do not believe that this is an appropriate time for considering these matters," they wrote. "…The writers of the Constitution clearly believed that all treaties presented to the Senate should undergo the most thorough scrutiny before being agreed upon."

"We also believe that other issues, most importantly addressing our nation's debt crisis, are higher priorities than any treaties currently awaiting ratification."

That includes another pet treaty of Kerry's, the UN's Law of the Sea Treaty.

Treaty opponents also note that the protections for the disabled are already covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act in this country.

Kerry argues that the U.S. needs to be a partner at the UN in bringing other countries up to snuff.

"The Senate floor has been the place where speeches are given about American exceptionalism, the question now is whether even in an age of polarization and gridlock we can use the Senate floor to do something that makes the Senate worthy of the word 'exceptional,'" Kerry wrote.

"Never mind that we've been studying this treaty for the last year. Never mind that in this session we will deal with major tax and budget issues -- so obviously people accept that we can do important things here in the months of November and December. Since the 1970s alone, the Senate has approved treaties during lame-duck sessions a total of nineteen times! There is nothing special or different about lame-duck sessions."