The Hidden Side of Our National Debt

A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Christopher Cox received an MBA from Harvard Business School and a law degree from Harvard Law School. During the administration of President George W. Bush, Chris Cox served as the Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. During his prior service as a member of Congress, President Bill Clinton appointed him to the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform, which examined the problems of runaway entitlement spending and the growing federal debt.

In 1993, Chris Cox, together with his colleagues on the so-called Kerrey-Danforth Commission (named after its co-chairs), reported that the unchecked growth of Medicare and Social Security liabilities represented major threats to the country’s solvency. Nearly two decades later, however, the problem remains unsolved. As Cox pointed out in a 2012 Wall Street Journal op-ed, co-authored with former Ways & Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, the oft-cited $16 trillion national debt fails to include the unfunded liabilities of entitlement programs. Even the alarming $16 trillion national debt is a gross underestimate of the real fiscal threat our nation faces.

While the government’s balance sheet does not report the unfunded liabilities from entitlement programs, the separately reported liabilities of Medicare and Social Security alone would balloon the $16 trillion figure to $86.8 trillion, Cox and Archer said. This represents 550% of GDP. In order to ensure that the public and their elected representatives understand the real dimensions of our debt crisis, Chris Cox and his co-author recommend that the government follow the example of the private sector and publish a full and accurate accounting of its liabilities.


The Internet Tax Freedom Act – Ensuring Access for All

During the 1990s, while serving the people of California as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Chris Cox worked alongside Rep. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to create important parts of the legal framework that today undergirds the modern Internet. In its formative years, the Internet was experiencing exponential growth, dramatically improving Americans’ access to information and their opportunities to engage in commerce. One of two landmark laws authored by Rep. Chris Cox and Rep. Ron Wyden that has enabled the continued growth and success of the Internet is the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1998.

During the past two decades, the ITFA has served to protect the functioning of the Internet and Americans’ ability to benefit from it by outlawing special taxes directed at the Internet. Examples of taxes that the Cox-Wyden legislation bans are any federal, state, or local taxes on Internet access (with some exceptions made for taxes already in existence in 1998), taxes on email, taxes on bandwith usage, and all other Internet-only taxes that do not apply equally in the off-line world. Seeing the successful results of the ITFA, which originally was enacted for three years, the Congress has renewed the law three times. Cox-Wyden was extended first in 2001, and then again in 2004 and 2007. The most recent renewal of ITFA will keep the Internet free of discriminatory taxes until November 1, 2014.

The other landmark piece of Internet legislation authored by Chris Cox and Ron Wyden is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, sometimes dubbed the First Amendment of the Internet. For more on this law, visit the Digital Media Law Project at