Here we go again. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is readying a State Department authorization bill, and that means another round in the fight to pay America's overdue bills at the United Nations.
The United States owes the world body hundreds of millions of dollars (perhaps as much as $1.5 billion), much of it for peacekeeping operations. But compromises brokered in the Senate have foundered over House insistence that any UN payments include a provision that would reinstate President Reagan's restrictions barring aid to international organizations that advocate legalizing abortion. President Clinton, firmly pro-choice, has twice vetoed similar bills.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, no friend of the UN, has brokered the latest compromise with the panel's senior Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Under the deal, the US would pay the UN $819 million over three years and forgive $107 million that the organization owes the US. But to get the money, the UN would have to agree to a number of tough conditions, including reducing the US share of the UN budget from 25 percent to 20 percent and of peacekeeping funds from 31 percent to 25 percent. A similar package sailed through the Senate two years ago.
If the full Senate goes along as expected, the bill will go to the House, where Rep. Christopher Smith (R) of New Jersey, chairman of the International Operations and Human Rights Subcommittee, vows to reinsert his anti-abortion provisions. What's different this year is that the Republicans have a smaller majority in the House and front-running GOP presidential candidates are soft-pedaling the issue - which just adds to the determination of "pro-lifers" to push ahead. But if other Republicans decide not to hand the Democrats an issue for the 2000 campaign, the balance could tip against Mr. Smith.
Without the anti-abortion measure, the UN would have at least a hope of getting its money. Given Mr. Clinton's position, including that provision would stalemate UN payments for the third year running. Which is no way for the world's leading power to behave.