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U.S. Taxes and the United Nations Money Pit

Whether you love or hate the United Nations, one thing all Americans ought to be able to agree on is that sloshing billions of American tax dollars into the UN, with little accountability and regardless of UN performance, is a chump's game.  I'd even suggest it is no favor at all to the UN itself -- corroding its incentives for decent behavior, and swaddling its staff and offices in plush sinecures that are increasingly catching the attention of financially strapped American taxpayers, who pick up the biggest share of the UN tab.

Yet the chief effort currently on the table to reform the UN -- Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's "United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act of 2011" -- is playing in Washington as an utterly partisan issue. There are so far 98 co-sponsors for this bill, and not a single Democrat among them.

Why's that? The Hill reports that according to Ros-Lehtinen, the Obama administration is telling Democrats to stay away from her bill. The bill seeks to clean up the UN by revamping some of its financial incentives -- basically proposing to condition a substantial share of U.S. money on UN performance. This would include potentially withholding some of the assessed dues with which the UN General Assembly bankrolls its self-approved and ever-expanding budgets, for which the U.S. dutifully pays 22%. The administration's argument against this approach takes the line that if America stops automatically dispensing money at the UN's demand, it would reduce U.S. influence and ability to reform the UN.

By that argument, America's clout at the UN consists chiefly of bribery. And there are a great many signs at the UN that such bribery has long ago been absorbed into the system not as an an exceptionally generous contribution by the host state, for which the other 192 are grateful. Rather, America's out-sized dues are viewed by the UN's other member states, and many on its staff, as an entitlement.

Maybe the administration should take a closer look at some of the facts now being unearthed by its own envoy for UN management and reform, Joseph Torsella. I don't mean to suggest that Torsella is at odds with his boss -- if anything, he seems to be trying to walk the impossible line of promoting reform by reconciling the administration's give-'em-the-money theory with the UN's gimme!-gimme! realities. But to Torsella's credit, in his efforts to persuade the UN to behave, he has been digging up a lot of information that suggests there are excellent reasons for withholding money from the UN.