As Congress and the White House intensify negotiations on the fifth round of emergency coronavirus aid, a bipartisan group of senators is hoping the relief package will include a controversial proposal to fix diminishing funds for Social Security, Medicare and the nation's highways.
This week, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and 14 co-sponsors introduced the TRUST Act, or the Time to Rescue United States' Trusts Act, to be included in the next stimulus legislation. It's an updated version of a bill that Romney introduced in 2019.
“Among its many devastating effects, COVID-19 has threatened the fiscal health of essential programs like Medicare and Social Security,” Romney said in a statement. “If Congress does not respond quickly, the day of insolvency for these programs will now come years sooner than expected."
The proposal would require the Treasury Department to deliver a report on the solvency of the trust funds by January 2021.
Congress would then be charged with creating bipartisan "Rescue Committees" to come up with plans to restore the solvency of the trust funds. Each group would include at least two members from each party. The goal would be to come up with legislation to create a plan to bring the funds back to solvency; bills advanced from the committees would be expedited for consideration by the House and Senate.
At least 60 votes would be needed before they could clear the Senate.
Romney said the bill would also address the nation's skyrocketing deficit and rein in the debt. The deficit for fiscal 2020 is expected to hit $3.7 trillion, a record, according to a projection from the Congressional Budget Office.
Although the bill has bipartisan support, some advocacy organizations for retirees have attacked the proposal as a Republican attempt to cut Social Security.
“The TRUST Act creates a closed-door process to fast track cuts to Social Security. It is a way to undermine the economic security of Americans without political accountability," said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works.
Senators who support the bill include: Joe Manchin, D-W.V.; Todd Young, R-Ind.; Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V.; Doug Jones, D-Ala.; Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Angus King, I-Maine; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Mark Warner, D-Va.; David Perdue, R-Ga.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Martha McSally, R-Ariz; Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; and Dan Sullivan, R-Ark.
At the end of April, the government projected Social Security, one of the biggest federal benefit programs, would be unable to pay full benefits starting in 2035. At that point, only 76 percent of benefits could be paid out. But that was before officials accounted for the virus outbreak, which they agree will deal a substantial blow to the program.
When factoring the crisis, the Bipartisan Policy Institute estimated that the depletion date would jump from 2035 to 2029.
The bulk of the money that Social Security pays out in retirement and disability benefits stems from payroll taxes; the program receives some additional funding from the taxation of benefits and interest earned on securities held by the trust fund.
“All three revenue sources are threatened by the current recession,” the Washington-based think tank wrote at the time.
In 2019, 54.1 million people received Social Security benefits. About 40 percent of Americans over the age of 60 who are no longer working full-time rely solely on Social Security benefits for their income, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security. The annual benefit is about $17,000.