Friday, June 30, 2006

NEW YORK — Republicans in Congress moved yesterday to cut U.S. contributions to the United Nations budget just one day before the world body is scheduled to lift a budget cap imposed by the United States and other donors and to resume spending as usual.

At least $17 million has been sliced this week from the Bush administration’s appropriations request for the U.N. regular budget, as frustration with the United Nations continues to fester among conservative lawmakers.

Rep. Scott Garrett, New Jersey Republican, yesterday won approval in a House subcommittee to cut $2 million from the U.S. contribution to the U.N. budget, saying that taxpayer money should not be used to lobby the U.S. government.

He was referring to a recent speech by Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown, who told two left-leaning think tanks, the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation, that Washington should do more to defend the international organization in public.

Another $15 million was diverted from the $1.28 billion request for contributions to international organizations to fund domestic law-enforcement programs. Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, successfully demanded that the United States should not pay anything toward the new Human Rights Council as long as countries on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism such as Cuba serve on the 47-member body.

Meanwhile, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, will soon introduce a bill urging the United States “to use its voice, vote and influence at the United Nations” to seek a system of proportional voting in the 192-member General Assembly.

Under such a system, the United States — which provides 22 percent of the U.N. budget — would cast 22 percent of the total votes on finance-related issues. If the world body does not agree to this and passes a budget without U.S. consent, the United States could hold back 25 percent of its dues.

Under the U.N. Charter, each member nation casts a single vote in the world body.

U.N. officials and some congressional staffers have long acknowledged that money to offset increases for pet projects — and there are plenty in an election year — often come from budgets for international organizations.

The White House has requested $423 million for the U.N. regular budget in fiscal 2007. The request needs to be appropriated by Congress.

The Bush administration has also requested $500 million for U.N.-related agencies and programs, such as UNICEF, and $1.13 billion for 18 peacekeeping missions.

Now that the Appropriations subcommittee on science, state, justice and commerce has finished its work, the U.N. funding will be taken up in the Senate after the July Fourth recess.

In addition to the 22 percent the United States pays for regular budget, it contributed close to 27 percent of peacekeeping.

“We’re at the midpoint of the process,” said Will Davis, director of the U.N. Information Center in Washington.

“The [U.N.] budget cap and the appropriations process is playing out roughly simultaneously right now, so it is impossible to predict how events in New York will play out down here,” he said. “The Senate will certainly have their chance to speak to what has happened in New York.”

Today, the U.N. General Assembly is expected to restore the Secretariat’s spending authority for the rest of calendar 2006-07, after a spending cap imposed by key donors expires.

The purpose of the cap was to keep the pressure on member states to address major institutional reforms, review old mandates, and generally improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the 60-year-old organization.

But very little has been accomplished, in large part because a 133-nation coalition of developing countries is wary of changes that will reduce their influence in the General Assembly committees and fear the reforms will make the secretary-general more vulnerable to pressure from rich countries.

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton has relished the budget battles, attending most meetings and delivering speeches to delegations and reporters that outline Washington’s position.

“We do not believe it is in the long-term interests of the United Nations, much less its member governments, to continue delaying reform that many of us know will make this institution stronger,” Mr. Bolton said on Wednesday. Only Japan and Australia joined the United States in “disassociating” themselves from the budget consensus.

Mr. Bolton says the next step is up to Congress, noting that the Bush administration will stand behind their existing appropriation requests.

Some on Capitol Hill are ready for a fight.

“It appears that the reform of the United Nations has been left in the dust as the budget cap was lifted without even a reference to reform,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican and a frequent U.N. critic.

“I’m disappointed that the effort to link funding and reform has been abandoned,” he said. “I intend to urge my colleagues in the Senate to use our funding to the U.N. as leverage for reform, including withholding funds if reform fails to move forward.”

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