House Foreign Affairs Committee Votes To Defund UNICEF

Under the leadership of right-wing Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday defunded United Nations aid to children across the globe.

On a party-line 23 to 15 vote, the committee passed a bill restricting funds for the U.N. that would likely forbid the U.S. from giving any money to the 55-year old United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It’s unclear when the legislation will come before the full House.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the bill endangered U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq, and urged President Obama to veto it. The legislation would cut the U.S. contribution to the U.N. by half — from $500 billion to $250 billion — unless the world body submitted to a system where most of its programs were voluntarily funded.

Mark Leon Goldberg of U.N. Dispatch checked out the fine print and found a provision in the bill that would put such onerous demands on U.N. agencies that they’d be unlikely or even unable to meet them:

Several UN agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Program are already funded on a voluntary basis. In other words, donors pay what they can, when they can. Presumably this legislation would not touch these popular UN agencies. And after all, it would be deeply immoral and politically un-savvy to take food out of the mouths of starving children, right?

Or at least that’s what I thought until I read the fine print.

In fact, there is provision tucked into the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act of 2011 which would effectively end all American contributions to UNICEF. Section 202 reads “no funds made available for use as a United States Contribution to any United Nations Entity may be obligated or expended if—(1) the intended United Nations Entity recipient has not provided to the Comptroller General within the preceding year a Transparency Certification.”

A “transparency certification” would guarantee access for Congress and the GAO to the nuts-and-bolts business of each agency. But, Goldberg writes, “neither UNICEF, nor any UN agency would ever agree to such a provision. Once you start privileging one country, other countries are going to want the same level of access and treatment.”

According the Associated Press, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is also against the legislation, probably because he knows it could drive the U.N. right out of New York. Earlier this yeah, Ros-Lehtinen took a similarly provocative step when she proposed the U.S. break some of its hosting treaty obligations to the U.N.