The Congressional Budget Office has come up with a simple but drastic proposal for figuring out how much of a burden the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. is likely to be.[@@]

The government could use a variety of methods to do a better job of including that anticipated burden in budget forecasts, but one “more extreme approach would be to transfer PBGC to private owners,” CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin said today at a U.S. House Budget Committee hearing, according to a written version of his remarks.

The PBGC is the privately funded, federally sponsored insurance organization that backs the promises of private defined benefit pension plans in the United States.

The PBGC is in the news because many lawmakers and other experts worry that employers have been making unrealistic promises about pension benefits to employees and that the federal government may have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to make good on the promises.

Selling the PBGC to a qualified private bidder would cause short-term pain by speeding up the recognition of short-term PBGC losses, Holtz-Eakin warned.

Losses would pop out clearly, and quickly, “because the current deficit would have to be covered, presumably by congressional appropriations, before a private entity would be willing to assume the program’s obligations,” Holtz-Eakin said. “In addition, a private owner might require either an annual or lump-sum payment from the government to continue to operate the insurance program under current funding rules and premiums.”

The government would have to stay involved in funding the guarantees and regulating the terms of insurance, but the risk to the government probably would be less than it is under current policy, Holtz-Eakin said.

A written version of Holtz-Eakin’s testimony is on the Web at http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/64xx/doc6419/06-09-CBO_Testimony_on_PBGC.pdf