The week has provided depressing confirmation that the Kansas delegation in Congress isn’t what it used to be – or needs to be – with the “Big First” District losing what had seemed a permanent seat on the House Agriculture Committee and Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran defying former Sen. Bob Dole to vote against a treaty on disability rights.
First House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, booted Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, from both the House agriculture and budget committees as part of a purge of noncompliant Republicans from key panels. Whether Kansans interpret Boehner’s committee shuffle as an abusive or fair exercise of his power, it’s clear that the bomb-throwing style that won Huelskamp few friends in Topeka has done likewise among congressional GOP leaders – and now made him a marginal figure in the House. That may fortify his tea party credentials as a proud hellion. But it’s very bad for the 1st District and Kansas, potentially putting the state as well as Huelskamp on the sidelines as the House charts a frugal new course on farm subsidies and other agricultural policies. To exert influence over lawmaking, a lawmaker has to be at the committee table as the laws are made. Huelskamp’s defiance is unproductive.
Then on Tuesday, the Senate fell short of approving the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. Roberts and Moran were among the Republicans voting “no,” even as fellow Kansan and famous disabled veteran Dole, 89, looked on from a wheelchair on the Senate floor. “By ratifying the treaty, the U.S. Senate will stand up for the equality and dignity of people with disabilities around the globe,” Dole had argued in a commentary on The Eagle’s Opinion page that day. Instead, Roberts and Moran stood up for unfounded GOP fears that the treaty threatens U.S. sovereignty and promotes abortion. The treaty, based on the Americans With Disabilities Act that Dole championed, was negotiated by President Bush and has been ratified by 124 countries and supported by more than 300 disability organizations and 21 veterans organizations. And Moran was for it before he voted against it, saying in May that the treaty advanced “fundamental values by standing up for the rights of those with disabilities.” How regrettable that neither Moran nor Roberts could find a way to support the treaty and its powerful endorsement of human rights for the 10 percent of the global population estimated to have disabilities.
Kansas still holds some levers of power in Congress, including Roberts’ seat as ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Moran’s new job chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee and 2nd District Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ new post as vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.
But its mid-‘90s clout is history. And like Congress as a whole, the current Kansas delegation could use less nay-saying and more statesmanship.