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TRUST Act would at least force Congress to confront hard questions

SHARE TRUST Act would at least force Congress to confront hard questions
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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday, July 27, 2020, to highlight the Republican proposal for the next coronavirus stimulus bill.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Whatever you might think of Sen. Mitt Romney and his TRUST Act, it would be hard to make a logical case for it being a way to dismantle or destroy Social Security and Medicare. 

Yet, to listen to some Democrats, that’s exactly what it is. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal issued a statement saying “the intention of the bill” is for “far-reaching cuts to Social Security and Medicare” and to “fast-track the destruction of these programs.”

If nothing else, this illustrates how hard it may be to fix a looming crisis for these two entitlements before an existential crisis forces the issue in a few years. 

Fortunately, not all Democrats agree. Romney said this week in a floor speech he has a bipartisan list of 14 Senate sponsors and 30 members from each party as supporters in the House. He wants the Time to Rescue United States’ Trusts bill included as part of the next federal stimulus package.

Romney said the bill would set up separate committees to study each program, as well as the federal highway trust funds, and would mandate that they find ways to keep them solvent long term. The committees would consist of equal numbers from each party. Any plan they consider would need the support of a majority and at least two members from each party in order to advance to the floor for a vote.

And, of course, the final vote would have to survive the back-and-forth of politics, including the current Democratic majority in the House and Republican majority in the Senate, as well as receive a signature from the president, in order to be enacted.

That doesn’t sound like a shortcut to destruction to me. 

Washington can be a frustrating place where perception is reality and where problems, and their use as leverage for raising funds, can carry more weight than solutions. But anyone who cares to look closely at either Social Security or Medicare (and I’m looking closer the older I get), will see that the day of reckoning is looming large. 

The annual report of the Social Security trustees said in April the program had 15 years left until insolvency. A lot of experts say that estimate has gotten closer since then as the coronavirus pandemic caused higher unemployment, which translates into fewer people paying taxes into the trust fund.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a private foundation, now puts the date at 2031. Medicare Part A is expected by some to be insolvent by 2024.

Realistically, Congress won’t allow either one to go under. Old people vote. But fixing the problem might not be so easy if politicians wait until the crisis hits. 

It would be easier today, although solutions are fairly limited. Congress can raise taxes, cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, raise the age of retirement or impose a strict means test.

That last one means you would qualify for benefits only if your income is below a certain point — not a happy prospect for some wealthy people who have spent a lifetime contributing to the trust funds.

Meanwhile, this year’s budget deficit is estimated to top out at $3.7 trillion, which eventually will make everything harder to fund.

Financial planner David Rae, writing for Forbes.com this week, said young people should begin saving now, so Social Security can be “the icing on the retirement income cake.” Don’t count on it for much more.

If you’re like me, you’re skeptical that even a series of committees could fix these problems before they hit full force. But if that force hits, fast-track gutting or tax hikes may indeed be the only option.

Like kissing your sister?

Morgan County Republicans are in a rare fix. The two candidates vying to represent their party in the general election for the County Council’s 3rd District, Jared Anderson and Cindy Carter, ended up in a tie, 541-541, and neither candidate chose to demand a recount.

Utah law says when this happens, district court judges in that county select the winner “by lot,” … “in whatever manner the judges determine.” People assume this will be a coin toss, but it doesn’t have to be.

Why not have them compete in a game of skill? Best two out of three chess games, for instance. Or maybe a game of “So you want to be a county council member,” with each of them having to answer questions pertinent to the job.