Congress in no rush to hold themselves accountable for sexual harassment payments

Do you recall, back during the initial rush of the #MeToo moment, when we discovered that legislators in the House and Senate had slush funds available to pay for the silence of sexual harassment accusers? There was a general uproar over that and we were assured that the members were going to get right to work on cleaning up their act. Good times, my friends. But what happened to that project?

As it turns out, not much. There were proposals written, and the House actually passed a bill, but when it hit the Senate, nobody could ever seem to agree on the details. And now, with the lame duck session drawing to a close, we don’t seem to be much closer to a final bill being passed. (Boston Globe)

Lawmakers are scrambling to finish a long-promised deal to tackle sexual harassment on Capitol Hill — over a year after a series of harassment scandals forced several members of Congress to resign.

“We are much closer than we’ve ever been, and we are aiming to be in the end-of-the-year [legislative] package,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a leader on the Senate’s version of the bill, last week. “People really want to get it done.”

Under the current rules, members of Congress have been able to use taxpayer dollars for settlements stemming from sexual harassment allegations.

Klobuchar makes it sound as if they’re close to the finish line, but are they really? The House passed legislation back in February (unanimously!) that would make members personally liable for such payments in cases of both sexual harassment and discrimination complaints, end the slush fund and introduce more transparency. But somehow the Senate couldn’t seem to agree to it.

The Senate version of the bill only holds members liable for harassment claims, not discrimination. And the transparency issue seems to be a bit more cloudy. Thus far, all Mitch McConnell has said is the same statement he released a few months ago, saying the Senate would “pass something” by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the two chambers are now looking at passing separate bills having different standards for the House and Senate.

How was this ever viewed as anything but a layup? If there are credible accusations against the members by their staffers that either discrimination or sexual harassment are going on, that is of automatic interest to the voting public. If hush money is being paid to the accusers on the taxpayers’ dime, the level of interest and need for transparency shoots through the roof. Who precisely is holding up that vote in the Senate?

Assuming they get something either shoehorned into the final appropriations bill or pushed forward on a standalone vote, they have to know that everyone is going to be watching and counting up the names on each side. In the current climate around the nation, voting against such accountability measures should be an automatic trigger for a primary challenge in the next available election. The fact that the House bill didn’t immediately pass in the Senate and land on the President’s desk is a low point in an already dubious public record on this issue.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022