Ignoring a veto threat from the Obama administration, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday pushed through a bill that would cut U.S. contributions to the United Nations in half unless the world peacekeeping body agrees to replace its mandatory dues with voluntary donations.
The panel voted 23-15 for the Republican-backed measure, which committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, said was necessary to force the U.N. to reform.
"We need a game-changer," she said during Thursday's markup session. "It's time to leverage our funding to achieve lasting U.N. reform."
"Money is the most effective tool we have," added Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, New York Republican. "It's our strongest leverage, and sometimes the only language the U.N. will respond to."
But Rep. Howard L. Berman of California, the ranking Democrat on the panel, warned that the bill would damage U.S. standing and influence at the U.N. and could deal a fatal financial blow to the world body.
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.
Mr. Berman said there was "simply no evidence" to back GOP arguments that withholding U.S. dues gave Washington greater leverage in forcing changes there.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said she would recommend that President Obama veto the measure if it reached his desk.
"This bill mandates actions that would severely limit the United States' participation in the United Nations, damaging long-standing treaty commitments under the United Nations Charter and gravely harming U.S. national interests, those of our allies, and the security of Americans at home and abroad," Ms. Clinton wrote.
The measure revived memories of fierce fights on Capitol Hill over U.S. funding for the United Nations. If passed, Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen's bill would shift the funding for the U.N.'s regular budget from mandatory dues payments to voluntary contributions.
"A shift to voluntary funding will help end the U.N.'s entitlement culture, forcing it to perform better and cut costs in order to justify its funding," she said.
It's unclear when the full House will vote on the bill. The legislation is seen as having little chance of passage in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, argued at the markup that American tax dollars should not be "financing people who hate us."
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, said that he shared some of the frustrations with the U.N., but said the ultimate question is, "What is in the best interest for the United States?"
"Are we better off being there with some input or better off not being there at all?" he said.
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