Shortly after publicly ditching one attack on Social Security—the payroll tax cut—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed Thursday that the Republican coronavirus relief package will include legislation sponsored by Sen. Mitt Romney that one advocacy group described as an "equally menacing" threat to the New Deal program.
In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell touted Romney's TRUST ACT as "a bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Senate Democrats, to help a future Congress evaluate bipartisan proposals for protecting and strengthening the programs that Americans count on."
Ostensibly an effort to "rescue" America's trust fund programs, Romney's bill—first introduced last October with the backing of three Democratic senators—would initiate a secretive process that could result in cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, a longtime objective of lawmakers like the Utah Republican.
Romney celebrated the inclusion of his bill Thursday and pointed to statements praising the legislation from a slew of right-wing advocacy groups, including the Koch-funded organization Americans for Prosperity.
The Utah Republican's bill currently has 13 Senate co-sponsors, five of whom are members of the Democratic caucus. Last month, as Common Dreams reported, 30 House Democrats joined 30 of their Republican colleagues in endorsing the TRUST Act.
"Donald Trump and his stooges in the Senate can't stop trying to rob us of our Social Security," Alex Lawson, executive director of advocacy group Social Security Works, told Common Dreams in response to McConnell's remarks. "They will use every opportunity and every crisis—including the mass death and economic carnage from Covid—as cover for their sick desire to destroy our Social Security system."
If passed, Romney's bill would give the Treasury Department 45 days to deliver a report to Congress on America's "endangered" trust funds. Congress would then set up one "rescue committee" per trust fund with a mandate to craft legislation that—in the words of Romney's office—"restores solvency and otherwise improves each trust fund program."
Legislation proposed by the committees would receive expedited consideration in the House and Senate—meaning no amendments would be permitted. Any bill would still need 60 votes to clear the upper chamber.
"This would allow benefit cuts to be fast-tracked through Congress," said Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. "Seniors and people with disabilities need their benefits boosted, not slashed. Like payroll tax cuts, the TRUST Act is bad medicine for everyday Americans struggling to stay financially afloat, especially during the Covid crisis."
Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, warned the TRUST ACT is "a way to undermine the economic security of Americans without political accountability."
"Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and all congressional Republicans have made their priorities clear," said Altman. "In the midst of a catastrophic pandemic, they should be focused on protecting seniors, essential workers, and the unemployed. Instead, they are plotting to use the cover of the pandemic to slash Social Security."
"Democrats must stand united," Altman continued, "and unequivocally reject any package that includes the TRUST Act."
Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee and co-sponsor of legislation that would expand benefits, called Romney's TRUST Act "a direct assault on Social Security" that must be opposed.
"During a pandemic, people are relying on Social Security now more than ever," Larson said in a statement Thursday. "These are Americans' earned benefits. Cutting them will only further hurt the economy."
As part of their effort to hold Republican lawmakers accountable for pushing Social Security cuts, Social Security Works and Tax March on Thursday launched mobile billboards targeting GOP senators in Iowa, Maine, Arizona, and North Carolina.
"Senate Republicans are rubber stamps who are happy to raid our Social Security system to please Trump," said Lawson. "We say to both Trump and Senate Republicans: Hands off our earned benefits!"