UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Republican and Democratic lawmakers came to the United Nations Monday to demand the U.S. Congress pay the nation's $1.5 billion in debt.

``It's outrageous and embarrassing that the United States _ the wealthiest country in the world _ is the biggest deadbeat at the U.N.,'' said Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat from New York.

She was joined at a press conference by Chris Shays, R-Conn., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., to draw attention to the debt and release a letter to the congressional leadership demanding the dues be paid.

The letter, to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Minority leader Richard Gephardt, warned that U.S. foreign policy was being undermined by the arrears.

The United States is again threatened this year with losing its vote in the General Assembly if it doesn't pay an estimated $350 million by the end of the year. Its vote in the Security Council is secured.

Congress has held up payment of $1.5 billion for years, demanding that the United Nations streamline its organization and institute a no-growth budget. Legislation that would have paid off the bulk of the bills was vetoed last year by President Clinton because it contained unrelated restrictions on U.S. spending for overseas family planning organizations.

``Those who insist on linking these two issues now hold U.N. arrears funding hostage,'' Lowey said. ``As this nonsense continues, these opponents squander the successes we have gained through our participation in the U.N.''