A deeply divided House panel on Thursday approved a Republican bill that would slash U.S. contributions to the United Nations, rejecting Democratic complaints that the measure would end American involvement in the world peacekeeping body and deliver a devastating financial blow.
One week after cutting $50 million for a U.N. organization that helps women and children in developing countries, the House Foreign Affairs Committee targeted the billions of dollars the United States contributes to the United Nations. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the committee chairwoman and a fierce critic of the United Nations, argued that the legislation would give the United States leverage in pushing for change at the U.N.
"We will never achieve lasting, sweeping reforms if the U.S. keeps paying in full what the U.N. dictates to us, with no consequences for the U.N.'s failures," Ros-Lehtinen said. "We need a game-changer."
The panel approved the bill on a party-line 23-15 vote. The action came despite Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's opposition and her vow to recommend to President Barack Obama that he veto the legislation. That may not be necessary, however, as it's unclear when the full House will consider the measure and it has little chance in the Democratic-led Senate.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also opposes the legislation, according to Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
Clinton sent a strongly worded letter to the committee this week warning that the legislation would severely limit U.S. participation in the world body, undercut U.S. interests and damage the security of Americans at home and abroad.
"This bill would effectively cede American leadership, creating a void for our adversaries to fill," Clinton wrote.
Nevertheless, the panel pressed ahead with the measure, with Republicans taking swipes at the U.N.
"They're really our buddy," Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said sarcastically. "They vote with us almost never."
GOP members said the U.N. Human Rights Council includes "gross human rights violators" such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Cuba. A recent conference on nuclear disarmament was chaired by North Korea, and Iran is a member of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.
"They're appointing every crackpot regime to leadership positions," Burton said.
Responding to the complaints, Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., said the United Nations "is not supposed to be our pal. We don't own it. ... If we agreed on everything, we wouldn't need it."
"Hope rests with the U.N. with all its flaws," Ackerman added.
The legislation would pressure the U.N. to adopt a voluntary funding system by withholding 50 percent of the U.S. non-voluntary regular budget contributions if, after two years, 80 percent of the U.N. regular budget is not funded on a voluntary rather than assessed basis.
In the 2010 budget year, the U.S. provided $7.7 billion to the U.N. for its regular budget, peacekeeping and other programs, up from $6.1 billion the previous year. The U.S. assessment is 22 percent of the total U.N. operating budget. By comparison, China pays 3 percent.
The bill also would block U.S. funds for any United Nations entity that supports giving Palestine an elevated status at the U.N. and prohibit U.S. contributions to the U.N. Human Rights Council and an anti-racism conference seen as a platform for anti-Israel rhetoric.
Rep. Howard Berman of California, the top Democrat on the committee, accused the Republicans of casting the bill as a means to stop the Palestinians from gaining statehood in the United Nations and a way to challenge the biases against the United States and Israel.
"That's nothing more than false advertising," he said. "The true purpose of the bill is to end U.S. participation in the U.N. and in the process, deal a fatal financial blow to the world body."
The committee, on a voice vote, turned back a substitute amendment from Berman that would strengthen the Obama administration's ability to push for reforms at the U.N., which has faced criticism for scandal and mismanagement.