No doubt fueled by the #MeToo movement, the bill moved swiftly through the House. The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act does many other things as well, including no longer forcing accusers of undergoing a potentially protracted mediation process before filing a formal complaint, as well as providing legal advice and representation.
Without question, though, the most important part of the legislation is that Congressmen (and women) could no longer leave taxpayers on the hook to pay for their sexual misconduct settlements.
With several members resigning this year following sexual harassment claims and several more not seeking re-election for the same reason, we also learned that tax dollars were used to pay out hundreds of thousands in settlements. With many Americans already feeling the widening gulf of differing standards between elected officials and average citizens, the injustice of that was galling.
More than $200,000 was set aside for such things by the House Administration Committee. That number doesn’t include the settlements paid out from members’ own budgets. John Conyers (D-Mich.), for example, who resigned last year, paid out $27,000
from his office budget, and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) settled $84,000 from the House Administration Committee fund. And those are only two examples.
It’s safe to assume that, as lax as we all know the sexual ethics to be in D.C. (as well as any other type of ethics), we’ve likely only
seen the tip of the iceberg here, so protecting taxpayers from being forced to pay for members of Congress’ sexual misdeeds has come none too soon. Let’s hope the Senate can find time in their busy schedule averting the latest government shutdown to pass this legislation as well.
An additional measure that was passed this week, H. Res. 724, immediately bans sexual relationships between House members and their staffers. It also requires each member’s office to create policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination.
Of course, not being able to leave well-enough alone, those in Washington immediately think they need to begin tinkering with the private sector. Co-author of the bill, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), said, “It’s time for us in Congress, now that we’ve gotten our act together, to turn a look outward and say, what’s going on in the rest of America? Are there things we can do to make things stronger?”
I literally scoffed when I read that. They pass a bill, and that means they’ve “gotten [their] act together”? So much so that they immediately need to start passing laws on the private sector? I’m reminded of the analogy of how, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Listen, Congress. These were positive steps this week. Don’t go ruining it with your usual “we know what’s best for you” meddling. You have a long way to go before your own House is in order.