House Votes Down U.N. Payments

The House last night narrowly defeated an effort to speed up payment of U.S. debts to the United Nations, which Democrats said were an embarrassment that weakened Washington's role in the world body.

But Republicans insisted the back dues should not be paid until the United Nations makes progress in streamlining its unwieldy, expensive bureaucracy.

The 221 to 206 vote against freeing $244 million to pay down Washington's roughly $1 billion debt to the United Nations came as part of $36 billion legislation to fund the Commerce, Justice and State departments next fiscal year starting Oct 1. The overall measure passed, 217 to 210, but the White House threatened a veto because it said the bill would shortchange a range of law enforcement, technology and international programs by nearly $3 billion.

The Senate last month passed its version of the bill, which the White House also criticized for providing too little funding for its priorities.

In other action last night, the $2.5 billion measure financing Congress's own operations was approved, 367 to 49, by the House and by voice vote in the Senate.

Drought Relief Sought in Farm Bill

Congress must write drought relief into a record $7.4 billion U.S. farm bailout before sending it to the White House -- a step that may boost the cost, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said.

Lawmakers were not expected to complete work on the bill, the second farm rescue in less than one year, before mid-September. It would shield producers from slumping prices for grain and livestock.

The centerpiece of the plan, written by Senate Republicans, was $5.54 billion in cash directly to farmers, duplicating this year's Freedom to Farm payment. Rival spending plans were certain to appear during House-Senate negotiations on a final version.

"This bill does not deal with the drought and natural disasters, and we have to make sure it does," Glickman told the National Corn Growers Association.

Errors Discovered in HUD Report

Congressional investigators found inaccuracies in a report that accused a Housing and Urban Development Department official of impeding a probe of alleged racism in her office.

The General Accounting Office listed 11 inaccuracies in the 41-page report, ranging from incorrect dates and statistics to a flawed explanation of why the department redirected an investigation of housing fraud away from three cities with black mayors.

The GAO's findings prompted Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) to ask HUD Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo to check the accuracy of the December report because the errors create the overall impression that Inspector General Susan Gaffney may be unfit to perform her job: ferreting out waste and mismanagement at the department.