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H.R. 4237: United Nations Voting Accountability Act of 2017

Of the 14 nations which received the most American foreign aid money in 2016, only one voted with America at the U.N. more than half the time: Israel. All those other countries voted with the U.S. less than half the time — usually much less.

Should we be giving so much money to nations which disagree with us so frequently — or often even hate us?

What the bill does

The United Nations Voting Accountability Act [H.R. 4237] would discontinue any American foreign aid towards a nation which voted with the U.S. less than half the time at the U.N.

An exception would only be allowed if the incumbent president believes it’s in the national security interest, or if “there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the [country’s] government.”

In practice, this would cut off a lot of countries. Voting coincidence with the U.S. fell to only 31 percent last year, the lowest level since the 25 percent in 2008 under the last year of the George W. Bush presidency.

The bill was introduced in February 2017 by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX1).

How would this look in practice?

Of the 14 nations which received more than $1 billion of American foreign aid in 2016, the most recent year for which complete statistics were available, only Israel would continue to receive aid from the US based on their voting rate with the U.S. at the U.N. It receives the 3rd most aid from the U.S., but votes with us 94% of the time.

None of the other top 14 countries votes with us more than 36% of the time which would result in no foreign aid, according to this bill.

Total foreign aid equalled $49.4 billion in 2016, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available. That was a bit less than the year before, as well as most years during the previous decade.

It was also only 1.2 percent of total federal spending that same year — a far lower percentage than most Americans guess.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation would ensure that American taxpayers aren’t helping fund nations which often actively seek to undermine U.S. interests.

“It is critical that some of these nations receiving vast amounts of U.S. tax dollars realize some of us are tired of their working so hard against us,” Gohmert said in a press release introducing a previous version of the bill.

“By introducing this legislation, I am continuing to encourage a deep look at our role as benefactor to countries who work so hard against us,” Gohmert continued. “Throwing money at our enemies has made them more contemptuous, not less. It is the role of government to protect its people, not pay others to hate us.”

White House likely supports

President Trump in his State of the Union address this year requested Congress pass a bill that sounds very similar to this legislation.

“Last month… I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said in the address. “Shortly afterwards, dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America’s sovereign right to make this recognition. American taxpayers generously send those same countries billions of dollars in aid every year.”

“That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends.”

To the extent the administration can act without Congress, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is currently trying to cut aid to dozens of nations which rarely vote with America. She already cut off tens of millions of dollars in cuts made to Palestinian refugees, following a Palestinian vote to condemn President Trump’s decision to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.

What opponents say

Opponents counter that America should always stand up for human rights, which are often most at risk in those same countries which don’t vote with the U.S. To do otherwise would be to punish the most vulnerable citizens, such as women and children, for decisions made by unelected representatives to the U.N.

“To walk away in a casual and cavalier manner from decades of U.S. policy on humanitarian assistance is profoundly depressing,” Refugees International President Eric Schwartz told Foreign Policy. “It’s wrong morally and it’s wrong geostrategically. The goodwill that the U.S. has in the world has largely been the result of the perception of international good citizenship. To walk away from that is shameful.”

Odds of passage

The bill has two cosponsors, both Republicans. It awaits a possible vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Gohmert has introduced this bill several times before, but with fewer cosponsors each time: 21 cosponsors in 2007, then 13 cosponsors in 2010, seven cosponsors in 2011, and finally two cosponsors now. No previous version received a vote.

Last updated Jul 17, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

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