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House Takes Harder Line on U.N. Than Bush

A measure passes to halve U.S. dues unless the world body makes dozens of big changes.

June 18, 2005|Mary Curtius | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House defied the White House on Friday, passing a measure that would automatically cut U.S. dues to the U.N. by half unless the world body made a lengthy list of changes within the next few years.

While the toughly worded bill has little chance of being approved in the Senate, the rare rebuff of President Bush by some of his most loyal House supporters underscored Washington's determination to force major changes at the United Nations.

The bill's backers said they believed its passage would compel the Senate to take up the issue later this year -- and force the White House and Senate to accept a stronger measure than otherwise would be the case.

"It's time we had some teeth in reform," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee and the bill's chief sponsor.

In a statement earlier this week, the Bush administration said that the bill would undercut the administration's effort to alter the U.N. and would infringe on the president's authority to conduct foreign policy.

Friday's setback for Bush came just days before the Senate was scheduled to vote on the nomination of U.N. critic John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the organization.

Democrats have held up Bolton's nomination for weeks, saying he is the wrong man for the job. But the White House has championed Bolton as a tough-talking diplomat who would spearhead its efforts to overhaul the international organization. The Senate plans to vote on Bolton's nomination Monday night.

Republican willingness to defy the president, some congressional observers said Friday, also reflected the changing political dynamic between the House GOP majority and a president who is in his final term and whose popularity has waned in recent polls.

Unlike Bush, said a senior GOP congressional aide who requested anonymity when discussing political matters, the lawmakers face reelection next year, and criticism of the U.N. "plays well with the [Republican] base."

Congressional anger at the U.N. has been mounting since the Security Council refused to authorize the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The discontent was fueled by revelations this year about corruption in the U.N.-administered Iraq oil-for-food program. The program was launched in 1996 to allow Iraq to sell oil for food and humanitarian supplies.

Supporters and critics of the House legislation agree that the U.N. needs immediate, fundamental restructuring -- but they disagree on how best to achieve it. During the two-day debate on the measure, dozens of members of both parties castigated the U.N. for what they said was a record of corruption, inefficiency and anti-Americanism.

"We all know what corruption looks like, acts like and smells like. We've all seen corruption in the U.N.," said Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.).

The legislation initially called for the U.N. to enact 39 specific changes by 2008 or face a 50% cut in U.S. dues. The U.S. this year will pay about $442 million in dues, which represents about 22% of the U.N. operating budget.

Amendments added another seven requirements by that deadline.

The measure would force the U.N. to cut some programs, overhaul its peacekeeping operations, change its budget priorities, strengthen its oversight and ethics processes, and hold fewer conferences.

The changes include requirements that any new U.N. programs would have deadlines for expiration, and that the U.N. budget, once adopted, could not be increased without consensus agreement by member states, and then by no more than 10%.

The bill would require the U.N. to establish an independent oversight board to audit U.N. programs and investigate senior U.N. officials, and an ethics office to review detailed annual financial reports by senior U.N. officials.

The measure passed 221 to 184, with 28 members not voting. Eight Democrats joined with 213 Republicans in voting for the bill, while seven Republicans joined 176 Democrats and one independent in voting against it. Ten Republicans and 18 Democrats did not vote.

Of California's 20 Republicans, 19 voted for the measure. Rep. Mary Bono of Palm Springs did not vote. Of California's 33 Democrats, 30 voted against the measure. Three Democrats -- Reps. Juanita Millender-McDonald of Carson, Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Peter Stark of Hayward -- did not vote.

The measure was dubbed the Henry J. Hyde United Nations Reform Act of 2005, in honor of the veteran lawmaker who plans to retire next year.

In a blistering speech Friday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said that the U.N. had "adopted an institutional posture favoring tyrannies." He also accused the world body of "standing with Palestinian terrorists against Israeli families, standing with [former Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein against the civilized world, and too often standing with anyone against the United States of America."

The House measure drew criticism from a bipartisan group of eight former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations.

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