WASHINGTON — A day after meeting with President Obama, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon raised congressional hackles by calling the United States a "deadbeat" donor to the world body.
Ban's criticism Wednesday of the U.N.'s single biggest backer irked some members of the House Foreign Relations Committee.
"He used the word 'deadbeat' when it came to characterizing the United States. I take great umbrage (over) that," Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, the panel's senior Republican, said after an hourlong meeting. "We do not deserve such a phrase."
Interviewed after the session, Ban said he had wanted to draw attention to the fact that the United States agrees to pay 22 percent of the U.N.'s $4.86 billion operating budget, but is perennially late with its dues — and now is about $1 billion behind on its payments.
That figure is "soon to be $1.6 billion," Ban emphasized. Asked if he'd used the word "deadbeat" during the meeting, he replied, "Yes, I did — I did," and laughed.
Ban also urged Congress to adopt climate change legislation to boost chances for his top goal this year: clinching a global climate deal. The hope is for accord at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Copenhagen in December.
"We need the U.S. leadership at this time. (The) whole world is looking at U.S. leadership," he said.
Ban generally got a "very respectful" reception from the committee, said Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., who chairs a subcommittee that oversees participation in the United Nations.
"Clearly they have an interest in the United States meeting its responsibility. In terms of peacekeeping, we're about $670 million behind, and I think the argument is well-stated," he said.
He said America loses credibility if it doesn't provide financial support.