When asked whether Congress will stop using taxpayer money for settlements, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on Wednesday on the “The Jay Weber Show”, “Yes, and that’s among the things we’re working on right now.”
His remarks came after a series of politicians and celebrities have been accused of sexual improprieties, and the day after Roy Moore lost his Senate bid in Alabama. In addition, the system used by Congress to address sexual harassment at the Capitol has come in for criticism. Members of Congress have voiced opposition to secret settlements paid to victims of sexual harassment for many years.
When the radio show host said that paying settlements to sexual harassment victims with taxpayer funds is indefensible, Ryan said he agreed. However, Ryan did not say how Congress will compensate sexual harassment victims going forward if and when the congressional Office of Compliance stops paying settlements. Ryan said that Republicans are seeking to reform the system for addressing sexual misconduct, but did not offer details.
“It’s more than just this,” Ryan added, “we want to do sort of a wholesale reform package and the committees are working on that right now and that is among the things that they’re going to be proposing that we’re going to be taking.”
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), have stepped down recently after allegations of improprieties were leveled at them. Both Conyers and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) have both used taxpayer money to pay out settlements for harassment claims. Conyers used $27,000 in taxpayer money from his office’s budget to settle a complaint, while Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer funds. Farenthold recently said he would pay back the money. The House Ethics Committee announced last week that it will establish an investigative subcommittee to look into the allegations against Farenthold.
In November, a bipartisan bill to overhaul the system was introduced that would require the Office of Compliance to publish the amounts of settlements and the office in which the alleged behavior took place. Also, it would also require members, but not staff, to pay Congress back for the settlement. The bill would also change the reporting process, thereby eliminating a requirement for victims to receive counseling before filing an official complaint, and would give additional protections to victims.