Just as the Bush administration has made the United Nations the centerpiece of its policy in the Persian Gulf, next year's U.S. contribution to the international body and its peace-keeping operations is imperiled by a budget squeeze that has set off a revolt by powerful members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
In a highly unusual action, the Appropriations subcommittee that drafts the annual spending bill for the Commerce, Justice, and State departments has concluded that numerous programs and agencies -- including the United Nations -- cannot be adequately financed under the panel's current budget allocation.
As a result, the panel has sent forward a bill that includes spending of $1 billion more than it was allocated by the full Appropriations Committee earlier this year.
Chaired by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), the panel is one of 13 subcommittees that share the limited appropriations "pie." In a reflection of rising tensions caused by years of pressure on spending programs, a number of members have charged that their subcommittees were shortchanged this year. The tensions will only get worse in the weeks ahead as automatic spending cuts loom in the absence of a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction that in itself would add new stringencies on top of the existing ones.
The extra $1 billion that Hollings wants would provide more funding for numerous critical agencies and activities, including international organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, and Justice Department investigators delving into the savings and loan scandal.
Ironically, Hollings and Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), the subcommittee's ranking Republican, are two of the three authors of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law, which provides the framework for the mandatory spending cuts administration and congressional negotiators are now struggling to avoid.
Any change in the allocation would have to be approved by the chairman of the full Appropriations Committee, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), with whom Hollings has occasionally clashed. As of yesterday, Byrd had not scheduled a full committee meeting to take up the subcommittee bill.
The administration, which is seeking $275.3 million in U.S. contributions to the United Nations in 1991, is relying heavily on the world organization in the current Persian Gulf crisis. This would cover the regular annual payment of $231.4 million, plus one-fifth of a total of $220 million that the United States owes in overdue contributions.
Hollings's subcommittee determined that it could not fund $68 million of the combined total of $275 million due the United Nations. This, the panel said, was only one of dozens of programs that could not be fully funded within the constraints of the overall allocation it had received..
Separate payments to U.N. peace-keeping and observer forces in trouble spots such as Lebanon, the Golan Heights and the Iran-Iraq border also would fall short by more than $30 million, the panel said.
The total shortfall in funds that the subcommittee was asked to provide for all international organizations -- including such groups as the Organizaton for American States, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- comes to $203 million.
Notwithstanding the problems faced by Hollings' subcommittee, the difficulties are to some extent the result of Senate priorities, sources said. The House counterpart of Hollings's panel, which under the anomalies of the appropriations process had slightly more money to divide up, provided full funding to the United Nations and the peace-keeping organizations.
But House sources noted yesterday that the Senate group chose to allocate much more money than the House to such agencies as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service and technology programs in the Commerce Department.
Others said that the Senate panel appeared to be maneuvering to get more money by allocating the shortfall to agencies and programs with broad congressional or presidential support.
For example, the extra $1 billion sought by Hollings would provide another $79 million to help maintain the Maritime Administration's Ready Reserve Force, a fleet of 96 commercial vessels, for use in national emergencies. Some of the reserve ships mobilized for the gulf crisis have had major mechanical problems, attributed to inadequate maintenance.
The panel would provide an additional $117 million for the savings and loan investigations and another $122 million for the DEA's drug war, both politically popular on Capitol Hill.