Legislative Update: July 2021

Bipartisan Plan to Fix Social Security and Medicare Introduced. 

By Shannon Benton, Executive Director

Most older Americans have one question when it comes to their Social Security and Medicare benefits:  Will my benefits be cut?  This question is uppermost in our minds these days as the TSCL staff continues to assess the full impact that COVID-19 has had on the financing of Social Security and Medicare benefits and future solvency of the program.

Last year, the Social Security Trustees estimated that the retirement and survivors trust fund and Social Security disability trust fund together would run short in 11 years — by 2032.  The Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund is due to become insolvent in just five years, in 2026.

There are new signs that Congress could soon take steps to consider ways to repair both the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds to address looming shortfalls.  Senator Mitt Romney of Utah reintroduced legislation from the previous Congress called the TRUST —Time to Rescue United States’ Trusts — Act.  The legislation does not contain provisions that would make direct changes to Social Security or Medicare.  Instead, it would establish a process for reform of these trust funds.

The TRUST Act would establish bipartisan “rescue committees” for the trust funds of the Social Security retirement and survivors insurance, and the Social Security disability insurance program, as well as one for Medicare.  Each rescue committee would consist of 12 members of Congress appointed by Senate majority and minority leaders, the Speaker of the House, and the House minority leader.  Each committee would be made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

The committees would be tasked with writing legislation to prevent trust fund depletion and to improve long term solvency.  The committees would have 180 days to come up with their plans, and any proposal would need majority support of the committee, including at least two lawmakers from each party.  Legislation reflecting these proposals would receive fast track consideration in both the House and the Senate, but the bills would still require 60 votes to pass in the Senate.

As yet, TSCL has not taken any position on this legislation.  We have too many unanswered questions; starting with — Do older Americans support this legislation?  Establishing these rescue committees sets up a special legislative process for highly contentious changes that we strongly feel should be debated in public hearings to allow input from organizations representing the interests of beneficiaries.  The committee process so far does not include any mention of public hearings.

In addition, much of this process could take place behind closed doors, and the rules for expedited consideration would make it difficult to fully review and analyze the impact that changes would have on those affected.  Finally, TSCL is highly concerned that rescue plans would contain options that would cut benefits, including provisions that would increase the full retirement age, reduce benefits, and “chain” or cut the COLA.  All of these options have been discussed as provisions in reform plans in the past, by committees tasked with coming up with plans to reform Social Security, and we expect they would come up again.

What do you think of rescue committees as a means to reform Social Security?  Take our new Retirement Survey.