The Cable

GOP effort to take back U.N. money fails

The House Republicans’ effort to retrieve $180 million paid by U.S. taxpayers to the United Nations, $100 million of which will go to homeland security in New York City, failed by a close vote on Wednesday afternoon. The bill would have sought to take back money the United States has already paid to the U.N.’s ...

The House Republicans’ effort to retrieve $180 million paid by U.S. taxpayers to the United Nations, $100 million of which will go to homeland security in New York City, failed by a close vote on Wednesday afternoon.

The bill would have sought to take back money the United States has already paid to the U.N.’s Tax Equalization Fund, which reimburses American employees there for payroll taxes. The idea is to make it fair because foreign nationals working at the U.N. in New York don’t pay payroll taxes to their governments. The fund was overpaid by $180 million, of which $100 million was designated by the United Nations — with the support of the Obama administration — to make security improvements to the Turtle Bay headquarters, which has been deemed vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

The bill failed, with 259 lawmakers supporting it, 159 opposed. But because House Republican leadership brought up the bill in such a way as to disallow any changes, it needed two-thirds of votes to pass. Twenty-three Democrats broke ranks and voted to take the money away from the United Nations. Only 2 Republicans supported keeping the funding. One of them was Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY).

"This would undermine security in New York City, it’s wrong and it’s indefensible," King told The Cable on Tuesday, rejecting House leadership demands that that the security funding be provided through regular appropriations. "We’re talking about human life here. If someone is killed in an attack on the U.N., I don’t think we will be able to go back and say, well, the money was in the wrong account."

The bill was sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and was selected as part of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor‘s YouCut website project, which allows people to vote on which spending cut bill they want to see on the House floor each week.

"It amazes me how easily some in Washington can come up with excuse after excuse after excuse to keep on spending," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Today, the excuse for opposing a bill that would have refunded to the American people $179 million overpaid into a controversial UN fund was ‘sorry, we already let the UN spend most of that.’  In other words, instead of receiving a refund, the American people are now being forced to give the United Nations a $100 million dollar gift card."

The opposition on the floor was led by Ros-Lehtinen’s counterpart, Howard Berman (D-CA).

"I strongly opposed this misguided legislation because it would have put our diplomats at risk, undermined our standing at the United Nations by withholding dues, and provided no savings whatsoever to the American taxpayer," Berman said in a statement after the vote.

This isn’t the end of Ros-Lehtinen’s drive to examine U.S. funding at the United Nations. She has promised to introduce legislation that would withhold U.S. contributions until organizational reforms bear fruit. A previous version of her bill would withhold all funding from the Human Rights Council and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which distributes aid to Palestinian refugees.

"Failing to pay our dues to the UN is a serious mistake that will significantly weaken our ability to produce the necessary reforms we want to see happen within the organization," Berman said. "Like I did today, I will fight against any efforts to limit our standing in the UN."

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