Coronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding

The coronavirus recession is taking an axe to revenue streams for key government programs like Social Security, Medicare and highway infrastructure.

The high rate of unemployment during the pandemic means fewer payroll taxes are being collected to fund Medicare and Social Security, and less driving means the federal gas tax isn’t bringing in as much money for the Highway Trust Fund as it normally does.

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Many of those programs, which Congress established with dedicated funding, were already on borrowed time before the pandemic hit, but the record economic downturn in the second quarter and the deteriorating labor market are accelerating their decline.


The Social Security retirement fund, for example, was previously projected to run out of money in 2036, according to the Penn Wharton Budget Model. Now, a worst-case pandemic scenario could bump that up to 2032.

The Highway Trust Fund, which was already set to run dry in 2022, is now on track to empty its tank next year, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). Funding for Medicare Hospital Insurance is expected to be depleted in 2024 instead of 2026.

The same CRFB model shows Social Security’s Disability Insurance fund running out of money in the coming decade instead of the 2030s.

A lack of funds would force Congress to choose between raising taxes, borrowing more, or cutting funds to other programs. Alternatively, lawmakers could just leave the programs insolvent, which would result in severe benefit cuts.

Republicans are hoping to tackle the issue by including legislation called the TRUST Act in the COVID-19 relief package under negotiation with Democrats.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump tests GOP loyalty with election tweet and stimulus strategy On The Money: GDP shrinks by record amount in second quarter amid virus lockdowns | Jobless claims rise for second straight week | McConnell tees up fight on unemployment benefits Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier MORE (R-Utah), would require Congress to appoint bipartisan committees to come up with plans for each ailing fund starting next year. If the committees can agree on a plan, they would receive an up-or-down vote in each chamber.

“Among its many devastating effects, COVID-19 has threatened the fiscal health of essential programs like Medicare and Social Security,” Romney said.


“If Congress does not respond quickly, the day of insolvency for these programs will now come years sooner than expected.”

The legislation has support from centrist Democrats like Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: Official says protesters not cleared from Lafayette Square for Trump | Trump administration blasts banks refusing to fund Arctic drilling | 2019 coal production hit lowest level since 1978 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: National Guardsman says removing protesters from Lafayette Square was an ‘unprovoked escalation’ | EPA watchdog kicks off probe after agency slashed fuel efficiency regs | Trump offers new FERC nominees Trump makes two FERC nominations, potentially rebalancing commission MORE (W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerVirginia governor, senators request CDC aid with coronavirus outbreak at immigrant detention facility Hillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against ‘misinformation’ | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence House Intel Committee votes to give all members access to foreign disinformation evidence MORE (Va.), and even a few left-leaning organizations.

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, who both co-chaired the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in 2010, are among those who have endorsed Romney’s bill.

“While most people in Washington would prefer to put — or leave! — their heads in the sand, the TRUST Act would create a truly bipartisan process to save these important programs,” they said in a joint statement.

Experts from the Brookings Institution and the Progressive Policy Institute also gave their nod of approval, as did the CRFB.

But House Democrats aren’t on board, posing a considerable roadblock to the bill’s inclusion in a final COVID-19 relief measure, particularly with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats reject short-term deal ahead of unemployment deadline GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi’s mask mandate for House floor Trump tests GOP loyalty with election tweet and stimulus strategy MORE (D-Calif.) as one of the lead Democratic negotiators engaging with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinDemocrats reject short-term deal ahead of unemployment deadline Trump tests GOP loyalty with election tweet and stimulus strategy Shaheen, Chabot call for action on new round of PPP loans MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsDemocrats reject short-term deal ahead of unemployment deadline Trump tests GOP loyalty with election tweet and stimulus strategy Senate rejects dueling coronavirus bills as unemployment cliff looms MORE.

“The TRUST Act is a shameless ploy to slash and burn Medicare and Social Security as we know it, under the guise of an allegedly innocuous commission,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroLobbyists see wins, losses in GOP coronavirus bill Public health groups denounce new Trump move sidelining CDC Will Congress provide relief to the ailing child care sector? MORE (D-Conn.), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education.

“Leave it to Republicans to actively seek to harm our nation’s seniors and most vulnerable during a pandemic,” she added.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealPelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic Top Democrat: Stimulus payments in GOP plan shortchange dependents MORE (D-Mass.) said he was “troubled” by the bill, saying closed-door commissions could not be trusted to protect vulnerable beneficiaries.

“In 2010, a similar closed-door commission made cuts to the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA); hiked the retirement age (which is an across-the-board benefit cut for all retirees); changed the Social Security benefit formula to reduce the amount people receive each month; and made cuts to Medicare that forced seniors and individuals with disabilities to pay more for drugs, doctor visits, and hospital care by increasing cost-sharing like co-pays,” he said in a statement on the TRUST Act.

Supporters of the legislation argue such critiques are overblown and note that Democrats will have the power to appoint half the people on the committees, which won’t be allowed to report out their proposed fixes without bipartisan support.

The recommendations would need to clear a 60-vote procedural hurdle in the Senate and approval in the House.

Some experts aren’t holding their breath, even if Romney’s bill becomes law.

Charles Blahous, a fiscal expert at the right-leaning Mercatus Center, says the process is likely to end in failure.


“The track record of process-based solutions is not a good one,” he said, pointing to the Simpson-Bowles commission which was unable to advance a plan, let alone get it signed into law. 

“One could not fairly say that the chances of success are high. But God bless them for trying,” Blahous added.

Paul Van de Water, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, also has doubts.

“The question raised by the TRUST Act is whether this is the right mechanism to do it. One of my concerns is that this is a very short process,” he said, noting the five-month timeline in the legislation.

“There’s not a lot of time to think through all the important issues,” he added.

Van de Water says that even without the TRUST Act, Congress is unlikely to simply let the funds run out.

“It would be better if something were done earlier, but we’re more likely to get something comprehensive through the normal process,” he said.


Proponents of action sooner rather than later argue that the normal process will create anxiety for millions of retirees and end up costing more.

“When today’s youngest retirees turn 73, they can expect an abrupt 23 percent cut in their Social Security benefits under current law,” said CRFB President Maya MacGuineas.

“This is no longer about saving these programs for our grandchildren. The benefits of our grandparents are vulnerable,” she added.

Updated at 10:00 a.m.

EPA cancels subscription to news outlet dedicated to covering it

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is immediately canceling its paid subscription to one of the largest environmental trade publications, E&E News.

The move takes effect Aug. 1 and will end EPA employees’ free access to the Washington-based publication, which provides in-depth coverage of the agency and related government agencies alongside a wide variety of environmental issues.

“EPA has decided to cancel its desktop subscription to E&E News,” Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento wrote in an email to employees on Thursday.


“Over the next two years, EPA would have spent $382,425 to receive” various E&E newsletters, Benevento said, noting that the money will instead be used to purchase subscriptions and access to other publications.

He did not name the other publications.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the EPA employee union, described the cancelation as a retaliatory move that would hurt agency employees.

“By cutting @EPA staff off from @EENewsUpdates, #EPA is stopping EPA scientists from getting E&E’s impeccable & in-depth press coverage of EPA’s union busting moves & #AFGE’s efforts to counter them, thereby retaliating against both E&E News & the union,” the union tweeted.

EPA has been one of the Trump administration’s most vocal agencies in pushing back against critical press coverage.

The agency often issues press releases denouncing coverage from outlets like E&E, The New York Times and The Hill.


A press release in March was titled “EPA Corrects the Record after Reckless Reporting” after a number of outlets reported on its coronavirus policy to pause enforcement of pollution monitoring requirements.

EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerEPA cancels subscription to news outlet dedicated to covering it OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA rule extends life of toxic coal ash ponds | Flint class action suit against Mich. officials can proceed, court rules | Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill EPA rule extends life of toxic coal ash ponds MORE and the agency occasionally use Twitter to push back on coverage.

“.@EENewsUpdates is misleading Americans with an alternative narrative. Bottom line: This final rule will save lives, reduce pollution and provide significant benefits to the American economy,” Wheeler tweeted in reference to coverage of the same story.

Wheeler tweeted similar critiques of other news outlets following their coverage of the same policy.

“FAKE NEWS: @NYT is spreading inaccurate info & misleading the public. That’s not what America needs right now,” he wrote in March.

Last year, EPA’s top spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer told The Washington Post that the tweets and press releases are a way to establish an official record of disputing a story.

“If we sat back and didn’t do anything, it can spin out of control,” she said at the time. 

E&E is one of the largest publications dedicated solely to covering environmental issues, with paid subscribers ranging from government agencies and congressional offices to advocacy groups and energy producers.

“I’m sad EPA isn’t renewing. Their staffers are heavy readers of our publications, generating hundreds of thousands of page views a year,” E&E executive editor Cy Zaneski told The Hill in an email Thursday. “We will miss their readership, but we’ll continue to cover EPA with gusto.”

When asked for further comment on the cancelation, James Hewitt, an EPA spokesman, only cited the cost, adding the money can now be spent “in other higher priority areas.

Rachel Frazin contributed. 

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Birx recommends face shields in addition to masks

Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, is recommending the use of face shields along with masks to protect against COVID-19 infection.

Face shields can offer more protection to the wearer than cloth face coverings, which are intended to prevent asymptomatic individuals from spreading coronavirus to others.

“The mask protects others, to block those droplets and block that contamination that happens when you speak or sing or talk, or even breathe,” Birx said on “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning.

“The thing about the face shields — we think that could protect the individuals and that it would decrease the ability for them to touch their eyes and spread the virus as well as those droplets coming towards them. So there are two different technologies for two different reasons.”

Anthony FauciAnthony Fauci Gohmert says he will take hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 treatment Pence met with doctors from viral video containing false coronavirus claims Fauci says viral video retweeted by Trump features ‘a bunch of people spouting something that isn’t true’ MORE, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor and member of the White House coronavirus task force, recommended the use of eye shields or goggles Wednesday.

“If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it. It’s not universally recommended, but if you really want to be complete, you should probably use it if you can.”

The mucosal surfaces of the eyes, mouth and nose are all entry points for COVID-19 infection. Since masks only cover the mouth and nose, shields or goggles would offer added protection to the eyes, Fauci noted. 

“You have mucosa in the nose, mucosa in the mouth, but you also have mucosa in the eye,” he added. “Theoretically, you should protect all the mucosal surfaces.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently only recommends the use of cloth face coverings for the general public, but notes that “some people may choose to use a face shield when sustained close contact with other people is expected.”

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The CDC’s guidance does not recommend the use of face shields for normal everyday activities or as a substitute for cloth face coverings.

If face shields are used without a mask, the guidance states, it should wrap around the sides of the face and extend below the chin. Otherwise, a mask should be worn with the face shield.

CDC director says he wasn't involved in decision to reroute COVID-19 hospitalization data

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Congress on Friday he was not directly involved in the Trump administration’s decision ordering hospitals to stop sending COVID-19 data directly to the agency.

The administration earlier this month told hospitals to start reporting hospitalization and testing data to a new Health and Humans Services database managed by a private contractor, bypassing the CDC.

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“We weren’t directly involved in the final decision but what I can say is this: CDC then and now continues to have access to all data, does all the data analytics, so there’s no restriction of any of the data,” Director Robert Redfield told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Response.


Redfield, under questioning from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), said he was told of the change after the decision was made by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the parent agency of the CDC.

He also said he has not discussed the decision with HHS Secretary Alex Azar or Vice President Pence, who has led the administration’s COVID-19 response. 

Redfield said the purpose of the switch was to improve access to real-time hospitalization data so the administration can have a better idea of where to send remdesivir, a drug that has been proven to treat COVID-19.

“I think the reason that changes were made was to ensure that individuals could get access to a desk in a timely fashion,” Redfield said.

The change was criticized by some public health experts who worry the administration is sidelining the CDC in its coronavirus response.

AJ Styles on WWE Title Possibly Changing At House Show, Mania

WWE legends Edge and Christian recently interviewed WWE United States Champion AJ Styles on their E&C’s Pod Of Awesomeness. Below are the highlights from the interview:
On Vince McMahon’s call to have AJ Styles beat Kevin Owens for the U.S. Championship at the recent WWE MSG live event: “To me, it’s smart. It’s something that hasn’t been done in a long time and to do it at Madison Square Garden and everybody with WWE knows that’s a big deal. I think it was awesome. I think it was very clever and I loved it. There was a pop, ‘he won! Yes!’ but, ‘well, who’s going to walk out there?’ and then, there was another pop because nobody walked out there. It was really cool, but it was smart to not do that every year, but every couple of years to do something like that. I think it just came down to doing something different and it was Vince’s call and no one else’s. And yeah, it was great.”
On if he feels the WWE Championship could change hands at a SmackDown Live house show: “You never know. And who knows? When the guys wrestling, whoever it may be wrestling Jinder Mahal, they may switch it. If you’ve got John Cena working Jinder Mahal on the main event or whatever, it could possibly happen. That’s a good idea. That’s a business move to some extent.”

On wanting to work big programs with the likes of Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, Seth Rollins and Rusev: “I have yet to wrestle Rusev and I think that would be really fun, to wrestle a guy like him. But there are guys on the RAW side that I haven’t really been in the ring with like Seth Rollins and Finn Bálor. I think people want to see. I’ve never worked Shinsuke Nakamura on US soil, so that could be a big deal as well.”
On his goal to headline a future WrestleMania event: “I would like to somehow find myself back at the main event. Everybody wants to be in the main event of WrestleMania. I’ll keep climbing that ladder and see where it takes me, but there’s nothing better than being a part of WrestleMania except being in the main event of WrestleMania.”
You can listen to the entire interview of AJ Styles from Edge and Christian’s E&C’s Pod Of Awesomeness at