Republicans Advance Bill Targeting US Funding for UN: ‘What Are We Paying For?’
October 14, 2011
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, meets with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Washington in March 2009. (UN Photo by Eskinder Debebe)
– A U.S. House committee Thursday approved a bill linking U.S. contributions to the United Nations to significant financial and other reforms, one day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned she would recommend that President Obama veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
Deeply divided along party lines, the House Foreign Relations Committee voted 23-15 for the U.N. Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act (H.R. 2829), whose most radical provision aims to force the U.N. to change its funding mechanism from the current system of “assessed” contributions to voluntary ones.
Proponents say this would allow the U.S. – and other member states – to fund only those activities and agencies it regards as being efficiently managed, and in the national interest.
In order to compel the U.N. to make the shift, the legislation would withhold 50 percent of the U.S. assessed contributions to the regular budget (which does not include peacekeeping) if the U.N. has not moved at least 80 percent of the budget to voluntary funding within two years.
American taxpayers account for 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular operating budget and 27 percent of the separate peacekeeping budget in “assessed” dues. In addition the U.S. provides billions of dollars in voluntary contributions for various U.N. agencies. In FY 2010 the total U.S. contribution was $7.69 billion.
Conservatives critical of the U.N. have long advocated the U.S. using its leverage, as the biggest funder by far, to push the world body to reform – and to weaken efforts by hostile member-states to use the U.N. to harm American interests.
The bill’s author, committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), told Thursday’s markup hearing that the U.N. budget continues to climb.
“What are we paying for?” she asked, then cited repressive regimes’ membership on the Human Rights Council, a continuing anti-Israel bias, the elevation of member states like North Korea and Iran to leadership positions in various bodies, and corruption scandals.
“Why do we bear the financial burden for this?” Ros-Lehtinen continued. “Every year, scores of member countries that contribute almost nothing to the U.N. vote together to pass the budget. Then they pass the costs on to big donors like the U.S., which is assessed a whopping 22 percent.
“In contrast, China pays just three percent. We need a game-changer.”
The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman, said the “real agenda” behind the bill was to end U.S. participation in the U.N. and to “deal a fatal financial blow to the world body.”
He argued that there was no evidence to support the notion that withholding dues can leverage meaningful change.
“Previous attempts at withholding did not lead to any significant and lasting reforms – they only succeeded in weakening our diplomatic standing and influence, and undermining efforts to promote transparency, fiscal responsibility and good management practices in the U.N. system,” Berman told the committee.
‘A dangerous retreat’
If the bill does pass in the House – where it has 125 co-sponsors, all Republican – its passage through the Democrat-controlled Senate would be an uphill battle. Even if it did make it through the Senate, its chances of making it into law are slim.
In a letter to Ros-Lehtinen on Wednesday, Clinton expressed strong opposition to the measure, saying if it reached the president, she would recommend a veto.
Citing U.N. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan as examples, she argued that international engagement through the U.N. comes at a fraction of the cost of acting alone.
“This bill also represents a dangerous retreat from the longstanding, bipartisan focus of the United States on constructive engagement within the United Nations to galvanize collective action to tackle urgent security problems,” she wrote