They were held prisoner for 444 days in Iran and forgotten after a quick hero’s return following President Reagan’s first Inauguration in 1980. Now, just shy of the 34th anniversary of their capture by Islamist militants on Nov. 4, 1979, the American diplomatic hostages and their families are closer than ever to receiving compensation for their ordeal.

“They are feeling very positive that this is going to happen,” said Tom Lankford, the attorney for the original 52 hostages, 14 of whom have died. “They would truly feel totally abandoned if it didn’t.”

Their bid for compensation has been ignored for years. But new attention to the hostages from the hit movie “Argo” and the support of new Secretary of State John Kerry, a diplomat’s son, has provided momentum in Congress to finally give the hostages and their families payments of the sort given to terrorism victims today, such as the people killed or injured in the Boston Marathon bombing.

Kerry’s quiet support is a first for a State Department boss. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed payments as a senator but dropped it as the nation’s top diplomat. Those involved in pushing legislation to provide compensation say Kerry’s support has been critical.

For the first time, the Senate has moved on a bill to provide about $2.35 million to each hostage family. A similar House bill is poised for committee passage. Both still have to go before each chamber.

The main hangup has been finding a way to cover the payments. No administration wanted taxpayers to pay and let Iran off the hook. So Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., came up with a scheme to raise the money by putting a 30-percent surcharge on fines levied on companies illegally doing business with Iran.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. AP Photo
Isakson told Secrets, “I feel good about it.” He said that he has worked with Kerry, as secretary of state and when he was a senator, to push the plan.

When asked why the hostages should be compensated now, Isakson said “Why not?” He added that “it is the right thing to do” especially “when you look at the reparations that have been paid to Americans who have been held hostage, or died at the hands of terrorists.”

While there is some concern that the legislation, if signed by President Obama, would come apart if Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani eases relations with the U.S., Lankford said that the United Nation’s embargo pressuring Iran to end their nuclear weapons program will likely remain in place for years.

And if sanctions are eliminated, he added, the Senate bill calls for an “alternative source” of funding, though none was cited.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at