WASHINGTON -- After sexual harassment allegations arose against more than a half-dozen lawmakers in 2017, Congress promised swift reform of an internal review process that many agreed was outdated and biased against accusers.
But a year later, efforts have stalled, largely over whether lawmakers should have to pay out of their own pockets to settle harassment claims against them, rather than taxpayers covering the cost as currently occurs. Some outside groups blame a handful of GOP senators for quietly resisting the liability provision and blocking the legislation.
Now there are only days left for the House and Senate to reach a compromise. Otherwise the bills each has already passed will expire and the new Congress will have to start over in January.
House and Senate negotiators remain confident that an agreement can be reached before members head home for the holidays.
"We're very close to getting it done. We're actively working on it every day," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a key backer of the reform.
The House passed its version unanimously in February; the Senate version passed its in May. But in the six months since, negotiations to reconcile the two versions into a single bill have dragged on with little public sign of progress.
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"We're working hard on it. I believe we're going to get there. But we're not there yet," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
As the deadline approaches, pressure is growing on proponents of the stronger House bill to accept some of the Senate's compromises. But critics say the Senate version alone does not go far enough, and the House won't accept the Senate version without some concessions.
"We're as close as we can get," said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a co-sponsor of the House bill. "We're willing to negotiate a little bit. But we're not going to negotiate away the victim protections we've put in the bill."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is expected to be speaker next year, opened the door Thursday to accepting some of the Senate's less stringent provisions in order to pass the bill. Then she said the Democratic-controlled House next year could push for stronger protections that would only apply in the House.