Saturday, April 19, 2014

Senator Portman and the CRPD

Perhaps we need a "Coalition of the Reasonable" to get the Convention on the Rights of a Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) ratified by the Senate. Senator Rob Portman from Ohio would be my first pick.

Like many Senators he spent some time in the House. He has won most elections by healthy margins against his opponents. That suggests that he connects well with constituents, a sign of reasonableness.

He describes himself as a economic and budget wonk (he served as President George W. Bush's international trade rep and director of the federal Office of Management and Budget). I suspect that is why Republicans put him on their budget negotiation team when Senators and Congressmen were working to avoid a government shutdown in December of last year. They succeeded. Another sign of Portman's reasonableness.

If you look at Senator Portman's legislative record -- bills he has sponsored and co-sponsored -- you will see that on substantive matters he is very comfortable being an early cosponsor of bills put forth by both Republican and Democrat colleagues -- on all sorts of issues. A further sign of reasonableness.

Earlier this year in a very candid and powerful interview with CNN, Senator Portman publicly stated that he now supports gay marriage because his son has told his family he is gay. That was no easy thing for Senator Portman to do. That too is a sign of reasonableness, a sign of someone who has the courage to embrace fairness, equal rights, in a very personal way.

Finally, he was one of the Senators who voted for the extension of unemployment insurance on April 7, 2014. An additional sign of reasonableness.

I believe if we urge Senator Portman to help us with the ratification of the CRPD, he would do so. His smarts, his considerable negotiation skills, his calm manner, and yes, his reasonableness is what we need to finish our journey to ratification of the CRPD.

Here is Senator Portman's contact information:

Washington DC:  202.224.3353
Columbus:  614.469.6774
Cincinnati:  513.683.3265
Cleveland:  216.522.7095
Toledo:  419.259.3895
Twitter:  @robportman

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Friday, April 18, 2014

Senator Heller and the CRPD

According to Senator Dean Heller, a Republican and junior senator from Nevada, he and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island met at a bipartisan dinner and became friends. One thing that probably drew them together was the fact that their states have the highest unemployment rates in the country. On December 17, 2013 Senator Reed introduced S. 1845 to extend unemployment insurance until May 2014 (retroactively to December 2013, when the unemployment insurance expired). Senator Heller was the first Republican cosponsor. On April 7, 2014, S.1845 was passed by the Senate on a vote of 59 to 38. Senators Ayotte, Collins, Kirk, and Portman, Republicans, voted yea, which helped the vote count reach 59 in favor of the legislation. So obviously these senators are in a good mood, a bipartisan mood.

I have a suggestion. Why not ask Senators Reed, Ayotte, Collins, and Kirk, all on the record supporting ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), to speak to Senator Heller about it. They could share with Senator Heller that most veterans' organizations support ratification. They could point out that many corporations that develop technology also support ratification. These two facts should resonate with Senator Heller. He is on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. I could not find any record of Senator Heller having specific substantive objections to ratification of the CRPD.

In the press conference following the Senate vote on S. 1845 Senator Heller was very gracious toward and complementary of his Democrat colleague, Senator Reed. He doesn't appear to have sharp edges. He clearly came to the Senate to get things done, be responsive to his voters, and not to block things. In fact, since Speaker Boehner of the House of Representatives does not support the extension of unemployment insurance, Senators Heller and Reed were successful in getting their Republican governors to write to the Speaker, indicating their strong support of S. 1845. This suggests that Senator Heller has a keen sense of momentum, a clear understanding of congressional process, and an appreciation for timing and strategic pressure.

If Republican Senators, who support the CRPD, WITH HELP FROM US could encourage Senator Heller to join the pro-CRPD side of the ledger we would have a powerful ally in the Senate. He could become an emissary to other Republicans who have not yet decided to support the CRPD. On a periodic basis he could give Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the Senate who controls the calendar (e.g., when Senate floor votes are scheduled), who is also from Nevada, an accurate count of how much support there is among Republican Senators. What Senator Heller shares with Senator Reid would have a lot of validity.

One final point about Senator Heller, he is on the Senate committees that have jurisdiction over housing and transportation. These two issues are very important to people with disabilities. If we are successful in making Senator Heller our ally on the CRPD, we may be making a genuine friend who can help us with other issues in the future. And, another final thought, since Senator Portman (OH) joined in voting for S. 1845, if Senator Heller joins us in the CRPD, he can go with his other colleagues who made S. 1845 happen, and visit with Senator Portman on the CRPD.

Here is Senator Heller's contact information.

Washington DC:  202.224.6244
Las Vegas:  702.388.6605
Reno:  775.686.5770
Twitter:  @SenDeanHeller

We know we have to do. Now let's do it.

Thank you.

Common Grounder

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Senator Boozman and the CRPD

Senator John Boozman from Arkansas served in the House before 10 years coming to the Senate in January 2011. He holds the doctor of optometry degree. He and his brother, an ophthalmologist, opened an eye clinic to serve disadvantaged people in Arkansas. He also helped establish a low vision program at the Arkansas School for the Blind. He serves on the Appropriations Committee. That is no easy feat for a newly elected Senator. And like Senator Burr, whom I also have profiled in this blog, he serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He has been active and aggressive cosponsor of legislation to benefit veterans, especially disabled veterans. He is a vocal supporter of restoring retirement benefits and increasing veterans' pay benefits to make them commensurate with the private sector.

He is no stranger to the benefits of play on a world stage. In 2007 he was instrumental in the creation of the Arkansas World Trade Center.

We need someone like Senator Boozman to help us with the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Why? In video clips he appears mild-mannered and comfortable with facts.  Two different Senate committees have moved two pieces of his legislation out of their committees this month. That is amazing given the partisan atmosphere we see in Congress. He seems to weigh what he says. So I suspect he weighs what he reads as well. He could help us find the words to put in a CRPD resolution that would satisfy conservatives like him.

The more I read about members of the Senate I hope will help us with ratification if we approach them in good faith, the more I realize that they are individuals who want to make things better in the U.S.  It's our job to let them know that the ratification of the CRPD is part of that.

Here is contact information for Senator Boozman:

Washington DC: 202.224.4843
Little Rock:  501.372.7153
Fort Smith:  479.573.0189
Lowell:  479.725.0400
Mountain Home:  870.424.0129
Jonesboro:  870.268.6925
Stuttgart:  870.672.6941
El Dorado:  870.863.4641
Facebook: (no traffic, 129 likes, let's give him some of both!)
Twitter: @JohnBoozman

As with so many Senators we want to reach, veterans and their families could really sit well (literally!) with Senator Boozman. Please try and do just that during this Easter and Passover break.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Senator Burr and CRPD

As we push for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) one of our key goals is to identify Senators who may become allies. The critical Senate floor vote probably will occur in July 2014. Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina is one of those potential allies.

Senator Burr is the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  If you watch Senator Burr speak on the Senate floor about veterans, often without notes or prepared text, you quickly discover how passionately he feels about the services they receive. He is especially frustrated with the delays that they experience in receiving these services. He is very interested in assisting families of veterans. He played a central role in getting legislation passed to address contaminated water at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.

Senator Burr is also a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. This committee sets policy through most disability legislation – the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are two examples.  And, he is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicaid, SSI, and SSDI, among other programs under the Social Security Act that affect millions of people with disabilities.  In March of this year Senator Burr joined with Senator Casey of Pennsylvania and sponsored the ABLE Act, S. 313. This legislation would allow persons with disabilities to maintain disability savings accounts that could exceed $2,000 and still be eligible for Social Security benefits. The last time I checked the bill had 70 cosponsors. It has a companion bill in the House of Representatives, H. R. 647, with about 350 House cosponsors. This is a spectacular example of quick, substantial bipartisan cooperation. The Senate Finance Committee will be responsible for getting it to the Senate floor for a vote. These few facts strongly suggest that Senator Burr is someone with whom we need to develop a long-term relationship.

Senator Burr’s statements, writings, and legislative record reflect a commitment to safe environments, individual empowerment, financial stability, and the rights of people to have control over their lives. I have not found any public statements by Senator Burr that indicate an unwavering opposition to the CRPD.

Many of us are aware that on April 4th of this year the Senate passed four international treaties related to the fishing industry. There was such wide agreement that no votes were recorded by Senators’ names. We can assume that most Senators believe in international cooperation and standards with regard to protecting the American fishing industry. On the heels of these four non-contentious Senate votes, there is value in representatives from veterans’ organizations, veterans’ family organizations, and the Down Syndrome Society (which played an instrumental role in developing the ABLE Act) contacting and/or visiting with Senator Burr.

Those who make the effort to reach Senator Burr could draw parallels between the things Senator Burr wants for veterans and their families and the values the CRPD projects for people with disabilities. They could draw parallels between the things that the ABLE Act will do for people with disabilities and what the CRPD will do for people with disabilities. They could suggest that the recent Senate votes on fish treaties give them great hope that the concern over the potential impact of international treaties on sovereignty has been lessened.  They could say that they see Senator Burr as a potential ally in developing reservations, understandings, and declarations in a resolution that would make the CRPD compatible with our system of government. They could urge Senator Burr to reach out to Senator Menendez and offer Burr's help in reaching a bipartisan solution. 

He is a conservative, yes.  He also has an impressive bipartisan record when it comes to vulnerable Americans. He may have the courage and conviction to be the next Senator to support ratification of the  CRPD. He may have the intellectual prowess to suggest the wording that will get us where we need to be on a draft resolution.

Here is his contact information.

Washington, D.C.: 202.224.3154
Winston-Salem:  800.685.8916
Web site:
Twitter:  @SenatorBurr

Thank you.

Common Grounder