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Romney, Manchin want new rescue committees to address trust fund solvency

Bipartisan, bicameral effort calls for setting up joint committees

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, wants to set up a bipartisan process to address entitlements. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, wants to set up a bipartisan process to address entitlements. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Mitt Romney is leading a new bipartisan effort to try to force lawmakers to come together to address looming funding shortfalls in several government trust funds.

In a draft bill shared first with CQ Roll Call, a bipartisan contingent led by the Utah Republican wants to establish “Rescue Committees” to write legislation providing 75 years of solvency for trust funds identified in a report to Congress from the Treasury Department. Examples of funds that would likely qualify include Social Security and the Highway Trust Fund.

“It was front and center, I think, during my campaign. It’s the number one issue that the people of my state care most about,” Romney said in an interview. “At some point, we’ve got to deal with these trust funds, or we get into a setting where the cure will be extraordinarily destructive and harmful, where benefits could be cut or taxes would have to skyrocket.”

Romney, a former Republican presidential nominee and Massachusetts governor, was among the senators who voted against the most recent bipartisan budget agreement, which did not tackle entitlement program spending.

As drafted, there would be a separate joint House-Senate rescue committee for each fund. 

Backing the effort in the Senate are three of the most moderate members of the Democratic caucus: Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Doug Jones of Alabama, along with Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana.

Companion legislation in the House is being led by Wisconsin GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher and Hawaii Democratic Rep. Ed Case, according to Romney’s office.

It has the support of budget hawks like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “The bill wouldn’t force policymakers to agree, but it would force them to try to work together. That goal should have unanimous support,” Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said in a statement. 

The process may appear to have echoes of past joint select committees that failed to produce results, but Romney said his proposal is somewhat different because of the intentionally narrowed scope.

“It is my perspective that I’ve gained by talking with others that we have a better shot of taking on the solvency of these trust funds by looking at them one by one, rather than by trying to create one mega piece of legislation that’s going to be troublesome in some way for almost everybody,” he said.

Romney said he thought that by establishing a number of committees to handle the individual funds, there could be a chance of finding success, “at least for some of them.”

It might be a long shot, but if any of the rescue committees managed to reach a bipartisan agreement the resulting legislation would have procedural protections in both chambers, including expedited procedures for at least getting onto the floor of the Senate.

“While 60 votes would be required to invoke cloture for final passage in the Senate, only a simple majority would be needed for the motion to proceed, which would be privileged,” a summary explained.

Under regular order, 60 votes are also required to break potential filibusters of motions to proceed to legislation in the Senate.

Romney said he did not know Manchin very well before his arrival in the Senate, despite both being former governors, but he highlighted Manchin’s interest in finding areas of overlapping policy priorities.

“I spent some time in his office, but also he was kind enough to invite me to dinner, and he and I spent a dinner together and spoke about our respective interests,” Romney said. “One of the places where our interests coincided was a great concern about saving the trust funds and saving us from going into financial oblivion.”

Romney said he and Manchin determined it would make more sense for them to try to devise a procedural proposal rather than try to propose solutions for the funding issues themselves.