The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the agency that insures U.S. workers’ defined benefit pension plans, ran a $23 billion deficit during the quarter that ended Sept. 30.[@@]

Unless Congress acts soon, “the money available to pay benefits is eventually going to run out,” says PBGC Executive Director Bradley Belt.

The PBGC reached Sept. 30 with only $56 billion in assets and $79 billion in liabilities, according to an annual report that the PBGC submitted to Congress Tuesday.

Higher interest rates helped the PBGC increase its investment income to $3.9 billion and reduce liability projections by $2.3 billion. That produced an overall net gain of $529 million.

But, down in the trenches, in operations, the PBGC collected only $1.5 billion in premiums and recorded $4 billion in losses from completed and probable pension plan terminations.

The PBGC’s estimate of exposure to “reasonably possible” pension plan losses reached a record of $108 billion in fiscal year 2005, up from $96 billion in 2004 and $82 billion in 2003. The PBGC’s estimate of the total shortfall at insured single-employer plans exceeds $450 billion.

The new PBGC report “serves as yet another troubling reminder that Congress needs to act on comprehensive reforms to our nation’s traditional pension system this year,” says Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Boehner has introduced a PBGC reform measure that is awaiting action on the House floor, and another PBGC reform measure is awaiting action in the Senate Finance Committee.