Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The CRPD and Senate Process

I worked for a committee in the House and one in the Senate. One hundred Senators have the same 24 hours a day that the 435 House Representatives have, but the Senators must focus on the needs of all state constituents, not just those in one district. And, Senators must be informed about or be prepared to be informed about the same number of issues as House members. These raw facts mean that Senate staffers who are content experts, especially those on committees, wield a lot of influence. Senators just do not have the time in a day to stay on top of everything.

Given these circumstances, how does an issue become a Senate priority and gain momentum? Certainly the persuasiveness, brains, and commitment of key staff are a factor. So too is the pressure from constituents. Both of these factors played a role in securing strong, educational hearings on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) last November. Up to that point things were textbook perfect.

Now there has been a four month lull of no visible Senate activity.  The result -- The impact of individuals telling stories about why the CRPD is important to them have been modest. The number of op eds that have made new or powerful arguments for the CRPD have been few. The television coverage that has occurred hasn't been that enlightening. Letters to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee written by important people, urging ratification, written in 2012, have resurfaced in social media. Things being tried do not appear to have the kind of traction we need to elevate ratification of the CRPD to the Senators' top ten list.

Let me share a little more about the Senate process.  Another factor that affects momentum in the Senate is when actual Senators, not staff, start talking to EACH OTHER about an issue. That is when an issue gains traction. That is when things start happening. And finally, once ideas get put on paper, get circulated and considered, when Senators are talking to each other, that's when things REALLY start happening. Evidence of Senators' involvement and interest in the CRPD would motivate staff and inspire those of us who want the CRPD ratified.

What we need is for each of the 61 Senators who support ratification of the CRPD to start talking about it, reaching out to Senators who don't yet (my estimate is 34, we need 6), putting ideas on paper, talking about them, getting them compiled, and polling on which ones have broad support. One former Senator from Delaware, Ted Kaufman, referenced THIS SUMMER as the time we are likely to see Senate action. Well, that time is not that far off. We need three things: (1) a Senate resolution (written document) on the CRPD, (2) a favorable vote on the resolution in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (a simple majority of Senators on the committee voting yes), and (3) a vote by all 100 Senators on the resolution, where at least 67 vote yes.

It's time for those critical conversations among Senators. If Senators do not assume some ownership of the fate of the CRPD now, it won't be ratified in this Congress. Historically, federal disability policy has been bipartisan. The right actions on the CRPD by the Senate could refresh and strengthen that pattern of bipartisanship.

You need do only one thing -- tell your Senator to talk to other Senators about the CRPD NOW.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

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