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.


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