updated 6/8/2005 10:34:32 PM ET 2005-06-09T02:34:32

Ignoring the Bush administration’s pleas, a GOP-controlled House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would withhold one-half of U.S. dues to the United Nations unless it made specific changes.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., was approved 25-22. An alternative from Democrats on the House International Relations Committee was rejected 24-23.

The big difference between the two bills was whether dues cuts should be mandatory, as recommended by Hyde, or left to the discretion of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The administration wants to retain the flexibility of deciding whether U.S. dues should be held back.

“You can’t have reform unless you withhold dues,” Hyde said. The committee chairman expressed doubt that Rice would order cuts in U.S. payments to the world body.

Under the Democratic version, introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos of California, Rice would have the authority to withhold up to 50 percent of U.S. dues. The amount would depend on her assessment of U.N. reform over the next two years.

Doubts abound
Skepticism in Congress, especially among Republicans, abounds about the international organization. Some lawmakers question whether the United Nations promotes U.S. interests.

Recent U.N. scandals have included the apparent mismanagement and possible corruption involving the $64 billion oil-for-food program for Iraq.

While acknowledging the need for reform, Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation and a former senator from Colorado, said withholding funds would prove counterproductive.

“The last time the U.S. withheld funds, it led to a huge debt to the U.N. and inhibited our ability to lead within the institution,” Wirth said. “This is like trying to force a bank to renegotiate your home mortgage by refusing to make your monthly payments.”

Variety of criticisms
At the House hearing, committee members took turns decrying the U.N.’s performance on a variety of fronts, including accusations of the sexual abuse of women by U.N. peacekeepers deployed in poor countries.

The United Nations itself has cited the need for overhauls. Mark Malloch Brown, a top aide to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told members of Congress two weeks ago that the United Nations was moving “full-steam” on carrying out reform.

He said the United States should work with other countries to promote reform.

Hyde’s proposals would create an independent board with authority to initiate audits. It also would require financial disclosures by top U.N. officials and a 20 percent cut in the U.N. public information office.

In addition, any countries subject to penalties by the U.N. Security Council would be ineligible for membership on the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

DeLay weighs in
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told a news conference the legislation will be taken up by the full House next week. He said it would be “incredible” if a “tough and strong man” like U.N. ambassador-designate John Bolton were to go to the United Nations armed with a mandate to promote the reforms outlined in Hyde’s proposal.

Bolton’s nomination is awaiting confirmation by the Senate.

Hyde said his bill is designed to address the “U.N.’s legendary bureaucratization, billions of dollars spent on multitudes of programs with meager results.”

Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., said a United Nations bereft of funds would be incapable of preserving peace, leaving the U.S. “to pick up the slack and the tab” by itself.

Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the Hyde bill was tantamount to a doctor “providing medicines that could kill the patient.”

U.S. pays largest share
The U.S. is the biggest financial contributor to the United Nations, paying about 22 percent of the annual $2 billion general budget.

That does not include money for peacekeeping, most international tribunals, or programs like the U.N. Development Program and UNICEF, which are funded separately.

All committee Republicans sided with the Hyde bill except Reps. Jim Leach of Iowa and Ron Paul of Texas. Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada was the lone Democrat who voted against the Lantos proposal.

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