No one who has paid close attention to the goings-on at the United Nations can fault the 221 members of the U.S. House of Representatives for saying "Enough's enough" to the corruption, mismanagement and bureaucratic excesses that have come to define the world organization.
But we believe they could have effectively delivered that message without wielding a legislative hammer. The 221 representatives ignored warnings from the Bush administration that reform efforts would be undermined if the House passed a bill that slashes U.S. contributions to the U.N. if substantive changes aren't made to its operation.
The legislation, which requires the withholding of half the U.S. dues to the U.N.'s general budget if the organization fails to implement 36 major reforms, was sponsored by House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill, who said, "We have had enough waivers, enough regulations, enough statements. It's time we had some teeth in reform."
We fully agree that the giant bureaucracy based in New York City must change its spendthrift ways and that rogue member nations must be punished rather than rewarded. Cutting the public information budget by 20 percent, establishing an independent oversight board and an ethics office, and denying countries that violate human rights from serving on human rights commissions are all necessary and worthwhile demands.
The complaints from lawmakers Friday during debate on the legislation are the very things we have railed against for years: Lavish spending; coddling of rogue regimes; anti-American, anti-Israel bias; and scandals such as mismanagement of the oil-for-food program in Iraq and sexual misconduct of peacekeepers.
But we are also cognizant of the fact that diplomacy, especially as the United States tries to win and hearts and minds of people around the world, is a more effective tool than making threats.
The bill, which passed on a 221-184 vote, now goes to the Senate, where it will receive close scrutiny. We urge senators to temper the measure by amending it to give the U.S. secretary of state the discretion to decide whether to withhold payments. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-California, had presented such an alternative to the House, but it was rejected, 216-190.
The reforms the House wants the U.N. to embrace would remain in place, as would the September 2007 deadline for 32 of the 39 reforms to be met. The difference between the House version and the one we believe the Senate should pass has to do with the secretary of state's role.
Rep. Hyde's bill requires the secretary to certify that the reforms have been implemented to avoid a withdrawal of 50 percent of the assessed dues. The Senate should let the secretary of state determine if and when payments should be withheld.
U.S.-assessed dues account for about 22 percent of the U.N.'s $2 billion annual general budget. This country has every right to demand the biggest bang for its buck.