Reversing stand, House OKs paying UN dues

As President Bush works to assemble an international coalition to fight terrorism, the House gave him a boost with potential allies Monday by voting final congressional approval for the payment of $582 million in back dues to the UN.

In the next two days, the House and the Senate are expected to pass legislation approving hundreds of billions of dollars in spending on the armed forces.

Committees on both sides of Capitol Hill are combing through the administration's anti-terrorism legislation, meeting with Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and hoping to address civil-liberties concerns raised by liberals and conservatives.

Almost all lawmakers say they must find a way to ensure the safety of the nation's airlines and airports following a financial-bailout package for the airlines approved Friday.

"It was appropriate to deal with solvency, but security is keeping people away from the airports," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who was to be co-host of a hearing on the subject Tuesday with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).

Although some on Capitol Hill remain committed to finishing education and health-care legislation, the agenda has changed radically.

"There is everything we focused on before Sept. 11, and there's this whole new world after," said Terry Holt, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas).

Not everyone has embraced the change. Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) is pushing for the Senate to concentrate on energy legislation and issues affecting senior citizens.

But issues that once tied the two parties in knots now seem to be guaranteed smooth passage.

For example, lawmakers have spent years grappling with whether to pay its back dues to the United Nations. In 1999, the U.S. agreed to settle up by paying a total of $926 million in dues on the condition that the UN streamline its bureaucracy and cut its financial obligations.

So far, Washington has paid $100 million of the promised amount. Legislation for the second installment of $582 million was approved earlier by both chambers, but had become mired in House-Senate disputes. The House on Monday passed the Senate's bill.

Congress has yet to take up the third installment of $244 million, which the House had voted to withhold until the U.S. wins back its seat on the UN's Human Rights Commission.

Now, as Bush reaches out to other nations, lawmakers agreed the dues must go out to help mend frayed relations.

"The United States cannot act alone and expect to prevail in this long-term, painful struggle against international terrorism," said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member of the House International Affairs Committee.

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), the committee's chairman, said, "Meeting our financial obligations to the United Nations will help to ensure that our policymakers can keep the focus on broad policies that unite the members of the Security Council in the fight against global terrorism."

Similarly, $343 billion defense legislation was once mired in conflict over a missile-defense shield and other issues. Now, members of the House and Senate are expected to easily pass their respective defense bills this week.

In the Senate, Democrats agreed to give Bush $8.3 billion for a missile-defense program, which was what he originally sought. They also gave him the option to shift $1.3 billion of that amount to anti-terrorism programs, if necessary.

In the House, lawmakers agreed to authorize $7.9 billion in spending for missile defense, which could similarly speed the legislation's path.

"I think there's a unity of purpose that few have ever seen on Capitol Hill," said Doug Hattaway, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).