HTF Included in Romney-Manchin Trust Fund “Rescue” Bill

A new bipartisan bill in the Senate would establish expedited “fast track” procedures for legislation to fix insolvent federal trust funds, including the Highway Trust Fund.

The “Time to Rescue United States Trusts Act” (TRUST) will be introduced next week by Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Todd Young (R-IN).

The draft bill does not directly identify any specific trust funds. Instead, it orders the Treasury Department to identify every federal trust fund with annual outlays over $20 billion per year which are projected by Treasury to run out of money by 2035 (and give an estimated amount of the insolvency of each trust fund). This is estimated to include the Social Security, Disability, Medicare Part A, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and Highway Trust Funds. (The bill actually defines these in terms of the programs supported by the fund, which they call “critical social contract programs,” which may be problematic for the HTF which is bifurcated into highway and transit accounts, with the transit account being under $20 billion per year.)

Then, for each trust fund, a special 12-member joint committee of Congress will be appointed (3 House D’s, 3 House R’s, 3 Senate D’s, 3 Senate R’s). Each “Rescue Committee” must vote, by November 12, 2020, on legislative language implementing recommendations to “significantly improve the critical social contract program for which the Rescue Committee is established, including by— (I) increasing the duration of positive balances of the Federal trust fund established for the critical social contract program; and (II) to the extent practicable, providing for the solvency of the Federal trust fund established for the critical social contract program” for the next 75 years.

If a Rescue Committee can agree on a recommended bill (which would require a bipartisan vote), the bill would then receive “fast track” treatment in Congress. Any rescue bill would presumably affect revenues, so it would have to originate in the House. A rescue bill would automatically be discharged out of the authorizing committee of jurisdiction within 10 days of introduction (if not reported by that committee), and could then go directly to the House floor without going through the Rules Committee and would receive a straight up-or-down vote, without amendments. (The Rules Committee could change that, if they wanted to.)

Then, in the Senate (where fast track procedures are much more important), a rescue bill will also be automatically discharged from committee after 10 days and placed on the calendar, where any Senator can call it up after 2 more days via a non-debatable, non-postponable motion. If that motion gets a simple majority, then the Senate would debate the bill, amendments would be prohibited, all points of order would be waived, and the bill would remain the pending business of the Senate “until disposed of.”

The bill does not exempt a rescue bill itself from filibuster – there is no cap on debate time, and 6o votes would still be necessary to break a filibuster. But until the Senate held an up-or-down vote on a rescue bill, the Senate could not conduct any other business except by unanimous consent, so any filibuster of a rescue bill would effectively bring that year’s session of Congress to an end.

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