Corporate balance sheets would get a major reworking if pension accounting rules proposed Friday take effect.

In the wake of financial crises at companies with enormous pension obligations such as United Air Lines Inc. and General Motors Corp., pension shortfalls have become an enormous political issue and burden on the federal government, which provides a measure of guarantee for insolvent retirement plans. With an eye toward heading off pension implosions, accounting rulemakers unveiled the first step in their plan to radically change how pension plans are treated on corporate books.

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