In our opinion: Sen. Mitt Romney’s Trust Act won’t kill Social Security, but the pandemic might
Cavalierly running up the national debt while allowing those programs to run headlong into insolvency is a sure way to slash benefits and take away economic security in a few years.
Social Security and Medicare are on a collision course with disaster. The federal Highway Trust Fund is in danger of going under, and Washington’s penchant for over-spending is on course to reach a record $3.7 trillion this year.
Urgent action is needed … from a body that would rather put off unpleasant things. Congress, whose level of urgency runs along two-year cycles in the House and six years in the Senate, would rather not make distasteful choices about cutting programs, raising retirement ages or increasing taxes until it becomes absolutely necessary. But waiting could have dire consequences.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s TRUST Act, which he hopes becomes part of the latest federal coronavirus stimulus bill, would force a much earlier reckoning. It would set up a separate “rescue committee” for each of the nation’s struggling trust funds, then task them with drafting workable solutions. Each committee would consist of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, chosen by their respective party leaders.
Only when a committee finds a solution that gets majority support, including at least two members from each party, would it advance for a floor vote. There, it would have to compete, as any other bill, for passage and an eventual signature from the president.
Incredibly, some Democrats have cast this as an attempt to fast-track dramatic cuts to Social Security and Medicare, or to use the pandemic as an excuse to destroy them. One of these critics, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal, D-Mass., said, “The last thing struggling Americans need right now is a secret panel designed to slash their earned benefits and further undermine their economic security.”
We agree, but this bill wouldn’t do that. Cavalierly running up the national debt while allowing those programs to run headlong into insolvency, however, is a sure way to slash benefits and take away economic security in a few years.
Fortunately, not all Democrats agree with Neal. The bill enjoys broad bipartisan support.
Social Security trustees earlier this year said Social Security would be insolvent by 2035. That was before the pandemic hit, raising unemployment and taking millions off the rolls of contributing taxpayers. Now, the year of insolvency is believed to be 2031, and Medicare Part A has about four years left.
President Trump is pushing for a payroll tax cut, which would draw those dates even closer.
Insolvency would require Congress to find ways to keep the programs going — something they surely would do, considering retirees vote in large numbers. But solutions would be more drastic at that time than today, resulting in either cuts to the programs or large tax increases.
Today, solutions might include gradually raising the retirement age for younger workers or cutting off benefits to retirees who earn above a certain threshold. But Congress won’t act unless forced to.
When a crisis hits, Congress and the president react quickly to provide relief. The coronavirus stimulus bills have pumped massive amounts of money into the economy, and for good reason.
But deficits and depleted trust funds laugh at good reasons and go on piling up consequences. Romney’s bill would force Congress to at least look for ways to head off disaster. That would be better than the current silence on these looming disasters.