At some point, a failure to pay the rent results in expulsion. Not only that, it doesn't exactly engender goodwill between the occupant or the landlord, either.

That's the situation the United States is in regarding its membership in the United Nations.The United States owes more than $1.5 billion in back dues, more than half of the U.N.'s $2.4 billion annual operating budget.

The United States needs to halt its ill-advised posturing and pay up. Otherwise, it will not only lose its General Assembly vote but some of its international stature, though it will still retain its seat on the U.N. Security Council.

According to Article 19 of the U.N. Charter, a country loses its vote in the General Assembly when its debt equals or exceeds the assessments due for the preceding two years. The U.S. is in danger of joining 18 other nations in that club including Burundi, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Liberia and Vanuatu - not exactly a Who's Who in the world community of nations.

The excuses for not paying up are hardly befitting the world's only superpower.

The United States has some legitimate concerns about the overall U.N. budget, including the amount it should be annually assessed. That figure is now 25 percent of the budget. Congress wants it reduced to 20 percent by the year 2000. It also wants the U.N. to better manage its budget and reduce its staff. Those are all items worthy of debate. But until the United States pays its debt, it has not earned the right to negotiate future considerations. What it has earned is the contempt of those nations that have paid their U.N. dues.

Equally appalling is the lack of cooperation between the White House and Congress on the matter.

Congress has passed legislation that pays most of the dues, but the bill also requires Clinton to agree to forbid family-planning funds for groups that lobby foreign governments to ease anti-abortions laws - a tradeoff the president has thus far refused.

Clinton is blaming Congress and Congress is blaming Clinton for failure to pay off the dues. This is not the time to play political games or point fingers. Get the dues paid and then argue about how the United Nations should be run and what restrictions, if any, should be on the payments.

At at time when the United States is lobbying foreign governments to support it as it deals with substantial concerns in Iraq and elsewhere, it can hardly afford a diminished stature in the international community.