Senate Republicans unveiled their $1 trillion coronavirus relief proposal on Monday. The bill also includes a bipartisan proposal from Utah Sen. Mitt Romney to empower Congress to find ways to shore up Social Security and Medicare.
The Senate relief bill includes another round of $1,200 direct stimulus payments as well as $16 billion for new coronavirus testing, $26 billion for development of vaccines to fight the virus and more than $100 billion to help schools reopen in the fall.
Republicans also want to scale back extra unemployment benefits for workers from $600 to $200 per week for 60 days or until states can provide workers a 70 percent wage replacement.
Republicans also folded in Romney’s TRUST ACT, which he introduced as a standalone bill last fall. The proposal tasks the Treasury Department to deliver a report to Congress on the solvency of the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. Congress would then set up a “rescue committee” for each of the funds that will come up with ways to restore solvency for the funds.
Romney said during a conference call with Utah reporters that both of those funds are rapidly approaching insolvency.
“We need to act soon to shore up these programs,” he said.
Critics say Romney’s proposal is a threat to the future of Social Security and Medicare, and are nothing more than a backdoor effort to cut those programs.
Connecticut Democratic Rep. John Larson, chairman of the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee called Romney’s legislation “a direct assault on Social Security.”
“During a pandemic, people are relying on Social Security now more than ever,” said Larson in a statement last week. “These are Americans’ earned benefits. Cutting them will only further hurt the economy.”
Romney said his proposal simply sets up a mechanism for Congress to address the long-term viability of those funds through the regular procedures in Washington.
“Any legislation would be crafted by Republicans and Democrats, and would require a vote on the floor of the Senate,” he said. “It would mean Republicans and Democrats all come together and agree on a compromise that saves Social Security and Medicare.”
“The alternative is just to wait until they run out of money. And, under the current law, if Social Security becomes insolvent, draconian cuts to the program occur. That’s what we’re trying to avoid,” he continued.
Romney also said he was worried about the massive amounts of debt Congress was racking up, especially with the trillions of dollars they’ve spent on coronavirus relief since March. He says, even though the country is facing an unprecedented crisis, he believes it’s time to start discussing ways to reduce the deficit.
“This is not a time when we’re not going to be cutting spending during this crisis. It’s totally appropriate for us to borrow when the nation is facing such an extreme situation as it is right now. But, it is time for us to start addressing the deficit. If this isn’t the time, I’m fearful we might have to wait for a serious crisis before any action might occur,” said Romney.
Romney also said the bill provides more flexibility for states to spend the $150 billion in aid under the CARES act, which Congress passed earlier this year, and extends the timeframe under which that money can be used.