Sen. Mitt Romney’s TRUST Act, which was just reintroduced after going nowhere in the previous Congress, is setting off alarm bells for seniors’ advocates. And rightly so.
The Time to Rescue United States Trusts Act would create “rescue committees” in Congress to propose legislation to “shore up” various trust funds, including the reserves for Social Security and Medicare. The committees’ proposals would then be fast-tracked through the House and Senate, with no amendments and limited debate.
While enactment of Romney’s bill would not directly slash Social Security and Medicare benefits, it sets up a process that would likely result in across-the-board benefit cuts. By leaving only the skeleton of Congress’ normal deliberative process in place, it would limit opportunities for seniors to let their lawmakers know whether they support or oppose specific proposals to fix the trust funds.
The Act’s aura of fiscal sobriety has attracted considerable Republican support and some Democratic co-sponsors.
No doubt, the appearance of taking the trust funds’ future solvency seriously may be politically advantageous. And the trust funds do need help. If Congress takes no action, the Social Security trust fund will become depleted in 2035 (though the program still would be able to pay about 80% of promised benefits); Medicare’s will run dry in 2026 (it covers the Part A hospital fund; the other parts of Medicare are funded by premiums), but the program still would be able to pay 90% of benefits.
The challenge is real; the TRUST Act is simply the wrong answer. But there are solutions that do not threaten seniors’ financial and health security. In the 116th Congress, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) introduced the Social Security 2100 Act, which would actually extend the life of the program’s trust fund for most of the rest of this century.
However, rather than cutting benefits, Larson wants to expand them, partly by asking the wealthy to begin contributing their fair share of Social Security payroll taxes. (Millionaires stopped paying into Social Security for the year in February when they hit the $142,800 payroll tax wage cap, while the rest of us contribute all year long.) Rep. Larson is currently working with the Biden administration on a path forward to strengthen the program.