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Senate: No more taxpayer dollars spent to defend members of Congress from sexual harassment claims

The Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would set a new sexual harassment policy for Congress. e bill was passed unanimously, and is now on its way to the House. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and ranking member Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have announced the upper chamber's passing of a new sexual harassment policy for Congress.

In a news release on Thursday, Sen. Blunt said: "All members of the U.S. Senate stood together today in making sure the men and women who work for the Congress will be respected. Harassment of any kind will not be tolerated and perpetrators will be held accountable.

"Hardworking taxpayers should not foot the bill for a Member's misconduct, and victims should not have to navigate a system that stands in the way of accountability."

The bill was passed unanimously. Now, it's on its way to the House.

Hang on. We've been paying for that?

Yep. In what's been called a "slush fund" held by the Office of Compliance, $17 million has been paid over the past 20 years to cover legal defense fees for members of Congress. But it's unknown what actual amount was expended for the purpose of quieting sexual harassment claims, in particular.

The most recent case of note was a report that Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold settled a sexual harassment claim with taxpayer dollars to the tune of $84,000 back in 2014. He pledged to repay the money to taxpayers, but has not yet done so.

Farenthold resigned last month, and is reportedly now a lobbyist making a $160,000.10 annual salary.

Even if an audit could verify how much the Office of Compliance has paid out on sexual harassment and similar claims, the investigation would have to be more broad to get a true count of how much Americans have unknowingly paid out to prevent lawmakers from a scandal of that nature.

Other members have evidently used separate taxpayer funds for side deals. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) paid a settlement to a former aide who accused him of sexual misconduct, using funds from his own congressional office budget.

So what would change?

If the Senate's bill becomes law, currently required 30-day counseling, mediation, and "cooling off" periods for accusers would be scrapped.

Also, any lawmaker faced with a settlement over harassment would be required to repay the U.S. Treasury for claims within 180 days. After that point, the feds can go after the assets or compensation of the accused.

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