U.S. Republicans threatened Tuesday to use their new power as the majority in the House of Representatives to withhold funding for the United Nations as they accused the world body of waste and bias.
The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said she would reintroduce legislation that would condition U.S. contributions to the U.N. on "real, sweeping reform," including changing the U.N. budget so that member governments can offer to fund only the programs they like.
"That way, U.S. taxpayers can pay for the U.N. programs and activities that advance our interests and values, and if other countries want different things to be funded, they can pay for it themselves," she said in a statement read at a hearing on U.N. reform.
Ros-Lehtinen organized the meeting, but could not attend at the last minute because her mother was ill.
The United States has had a history of being reluctant to pay its U.N. dues, with critics of the world body charging it has a bloated and sometimes corrupt bureaucracy.
But the criticism is being revived on Capitol Hill just at a time when lawmakers are looking for ways to reduce the United States' trillion-dollar-plus deficit.
"The U.N. should be one of our prime targets for reducing expenditures in order to bring down this deficit in the next few years," Representative Dana Rohrbacher, a California Republican, told the hearing.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the world body shared U.S. goals of a stronger, more efficient, effective and accountable United Nations. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would visit Washington and meet with congressional leaders, Nesirky said, but no date has been set.
DEMOCRATS AGREE REFORM IS NEEDED
Currently, contributions to the U.N. are levied by the U.N. and countries are obliged to pay the percentage they are assessed. The assessments are uneven, with the United States paying billions while dozens of countries pay less than $35,000 a year, Brett Schaefer of the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank told the hearing.
Ros-Lehtinen complained of waste, mismanagement and bias at institutions such as the U.N. Human Rights Council, which she said was "dominated by human rights violators." The council's membership includes Cuba, China, and Russia.
In fiscal year 2009 the United States, which is the biggest donor to the United Nations, contributed over $6 billion despite high unemployment and skyrocketing government deficits, she said.
Ros-Lehtinen also introduced U.N. reform legislation in the last, Democratic-majority Congress. But as a committee chair she is now in a better position to advance her priorities.
Although her committee does not control spending, it writes a policy blueprint for House appropriators who do. Ultimately, however, House decisions on spending will have to be agreed with the Democratic-majority Senate.
Democrats agreed on Tuesday that U.N. reform was needed, but said the United States should "work inside the U.N. with like-minded nations," as the ranking Democrat on the panel, Representative Howard Berman, put it.
Berman castigated the Human Rights Council's "obsession with and biased treatment of Israel." But he said the United Nations often played an essential role in supporting U.S. interests, for example by sending peacekeepers to troubled areas and passing resolutions such as last year's sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program. (Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip in New York; Editing by Jackie Frank)
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