Statesmen seek bipartisan solutions to big challenges

Statesmen seek bipartisan solutions to big challenges
© Greg Nash

America’s capital is distracted and in disarray. One of the most dangerous results is that there is a long list of policy issues that have been neglected.

One particularly dangerous example is that three of our nation’s most important programs – Social Security, Medicare and highway trust funds – are heading toward insolvency, a situation the numbers clearly bear out but our lawmakers have continued to ignore.

Last month, senators and former governors Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Democrats aim for maximum pressure on GOP over debt ceiling MORE (R-Utah) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinDemocrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Democrats advance tax plan through hurdles House Democrat says she won't support reconciliation bill 'at this early stage' MORE (D-W.Va.) and Reps. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherBipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader 20,000 Afghan evacuees housed at military bases in five states: report Absent Democrats give Republicans new opening on Afghanistan MORE (R-Wis.) and Ed CaseEdward (Ed) CaseMORE (D-Hawaii) led the introduction of a smart, new approach to ending this dangerous procrastination.

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Noteworthy in and of itself is a bill that is bipartisan, bicameral and attempts to solve pressing policy challenges. Even more encouraging, this bill has a chance of working. 

Cosponsors so far include Sens. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungHow to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it's more than manufacturing) Senate Democrats try to defuse GOP budget drama The 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill MORE (R-Ind.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), as well as Reps. Ben McAdams (D-Utah), William TimmonsWilliam Evan TimmonsDemocrats seek staffer salary boost to compete with K Street Financial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns MORE (R-S.C.) and Scott PetersScott H. PetersDemocrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema Overnight Health Care — Democrats face setback on drug pricing Democrats suffer blow on drug pricing as 3 moderates buck party MORE (D-Calif.).

The Time to Rescue United States Trusts Act, or the TRUST Act, would create commissions (deemed “rescue committees”) for each major endangered trust fund to try to prevent its looming insolvency. Soon after enactment, the 12 members of each rescue committee would seek consensus on reforms to these programs.

The gaps between spending and revenue are rapidly depleting the trust funds. They are projected to run out of assets as soon as 2022 (highway), 2026 (Medicare Part A) and 2032-2034 (Social Security Old Age and Survivors Insurance). When balances are drawn down, each fund will only be able to pay out from incoming revenue. Social Security benefits would be cut across-the-board by 20-25 percent, Medicare Part A would have to reduce spending by 13 percent and highway spending would decline by 29 percent. This is no way to run a country.

Allowing those automatic cuts would be devastating to people who are in need as well as for critical infrastructure. Fortunately, Congress has a wide range of options to phase in appropriate combinations of reasonable spending reductions and revenue increases. There are many ways to rebalance Social Security, including many smart improvements that would be pro-growth while protecting those who depend on the program. Medicare reforms are among many possibilities for reducing the cost of health care. There are numerous options to raise new revenue for highway programs or reduce lower-priority spending.

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There will certainly be plenty of disagreement about how specifically to fix the programs. Working them out is exactly what we should be doing in a democracy. But doing nothing should be the one thing we can agree should not be an option.

Each rescue committee would be evenly balanced, with six Democrats and six Republicans, three of each drawn from each chamber. Recommending legislation and enabling fast-track procedures for consideration would require a simple majority that includes at least two members of each party.

The commissions’ deadline to make proposals would be November 12, 2020, nine days after Election Day. That target date would allow the rescue committees to focus on their work without worrying about their products being caught up in campaign posturing. It would also provide enough time to consider the recommendations before the end of the congressional session.

Taking a note from the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, the rescue committees could propose legislation before the deadline. Members may decide that they have enough agreement, perhaps on relatively narrow reforms or even just technical corrections, that they’d rather try to get that piece done and keep working on other aspects.

If they succeed, these programs will be made financially stable, arbitrary cuts will be avoided and our politics will be healthier as the American people see that the parties can work together to advance the public interest. Fixing the structural imbalances in these programs and a few others would also substantially improve the federal government’s budget outlook. 

It is encouraging to see thoughtful statesmen of both parties focused on the important work that voters sent them to Congress to do. Seeking bipartisan solutions to serious problems and enacting them is a crucial remedy to heal our ailing political culture.

Maya MacGuineas is president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.