WASHINGTON – For years, taxpayers have unknowingly helped congressmen secretly settle lawsuits that include sexual misconduct. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working to change this and get Americans off the hook from paying to hide their bad behavior.
If successful, this bipartisan effort would end the so called "hush funds" and restore millions in tax dollars that covered the secret settlements.
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., is one of the sponsors of the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act.
She tells CBN News that until recent reports exposed some of the sexual misconduct settlements involving members of Congress, many lawmakers didn't even know this was happening.
"There will be a very clear message to the American people: We are not going to tolerate this kind of behavior," Black told CBN News.
Even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan says he was not aware money was being used to pay out sexual harassment settlements.
"I was not aware of these things, didn't know about it," Ryan told CBN News. "We've all learned quite a bit more since then. There's not like a fund of money set aside. It's just when claims are made claims get paid."
He says there are many different kinds of claims that occur for things like slipping and falling, Hephaestus, and the anthrax scare.
"There's lots of different kinds of claims that occur, and then payments get made. But we did not know the nature of this beforehand," continued Ryan.
This push for stronger accountability would not only stop payment for sexual harassment lawsuits, it would also end the secrecy by disclosing names of lawmakers and the nature of the allegations.
"I think it creates negative incentives if members know, like John Conyers, he can just cut a check from his office budget and keep it a secret," Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., told CBN News. "Well, there's a reason someone like that was a habitual offender."
"We want to open the books – transparency – and protect the taxpayer going forward," DeSantis said. "I think that that will lead to better behavior by people in positions of power."
The bill also requires any member who has benefited from a settlement to pay back the money with interest.
"I hope we will do this rapidly so we can show the American people we are serious about taking care of this issue," Black said.
And with the continued accusations and recent resignations, Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., is urging the American people to pray for their leaders.
"Know that the folks up here need your prayers, not just that they'll make the right decisions but that they'll be people who walk with the Lord and do the right thing," Pittenger said.
He points out while leaders are human, they must also pursue higher standards.
"There's so many of us who attend Bible studies and prayer groups and have every belief in the world. Ya know, they love their wives; they love the churches they go to; they love the Lord; they want to do the right thing," Pittenger said. "But clearly there's some folks who've stumbled along the way and we need to address that, but we need to be upheld to a higher standard."
Many on the Hill agree with that sentiment, like Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who told CBN News Congress needs to lead by example when it comes to addressing sexual misconduct around the country.
"This gives us a chance to lead again," Grassley said. "Maybe by Congress changing these laws and setting a better example, it might even set an example for Hollywood."
Lawmakers hope the steps they're taking to address harassment will lead to a cultural change in congressional offices.