House and Senate leaders have removed provisions that aim to combat sexual harassment in Congress from an omnibus spending bill, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Monday.
The omnibus bill, which would fund the government through Sept. 30, included language from the Congressional Harassment Reform Act authored by Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and cosponsored by 30 senators, including nine Republicans.
The bill sponsored by Gillibrand would require sexual harassment awareness training for members of Congress and their staff, mandate a biennial climate survey of Congress and reform how harassment complaints are handled by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
It would also require members of Congress to reimburse any funds used from their office accounts to pay discrimination or harassment settlements.
However, Gillibrand learned that the provisions from the legislation that were initially included in the omnibus bill have been stripped by congressional leaders.
"It begs the question: Who are they trying to protect?" Gillibrand said. "I can't think of any legitimate reason to remove this language other than to protect members of Congress over taxpayers and congressional employees."
Gillibrand unveiled the legislation last year after a slew of sexual misconduct cases made headlines. This included allegations of sexual harassment against some members of Congress and reports that taxpayer dollars were used to pay settlements.
The list of the bill's cosponsors include several notable names. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, was one of the original cosponsors of the bill. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, also signed on in support of the measure.
That's one reason why Gillibrand said she's "appalled" that congressional leadership would remove the provisions from the larger spending bill.
"Nothing about this should be controversial at this point; the Congressional Harassment Reform Act has broad bipartisan support in the Senate and these provisions already passed the House unanimously," she said. "I demand that Senate leadership bring my legislation to the floor for a vote immediately."
It's a common practice in Congress to include individual bills in larger measures. When Congress passed legislation to create the Harriet Tubman national parks in Maryland and New York, it was part of a larger annual defense bill that was signed by then-President Barack Obama.
The omnibus bill is a top priority for Congress this week. A government shutdown is possible if an agreement isn't finalized by Friday, March 23.