Yarmuth: No Time for Entitlement Reform Before ‘Fiscal Cliff’

Kentucky Third District Congressman John Yarmuth told MSNBC Monday that Democrats are willing to extend the Bush-era tax cut to help avoid the “fiscal cliff” but that Republicans are “dreaming” if they push for entitlement reforms before the new year.

President Obama and congressional leaders are in the midst of negotiating a new budget deal to avoid the $607 billion combination of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes set to take effect in January.

Mr. Obama has proposed an immediate extension of the Bush-era tax rates for incomes at $250,000 or less, but GOP lawmakers want the cuts to remain across-the-board. If a deal cannot be reached then all Americans will see their taxes go up, but the president has stressed that Congress can help 98 percent of Americans avoid an increase while his economic team forecasts going over the cliff would hurt the recovery overall.

Yarmuth says Congress can avoid the burden on middle-class Americans if a small number of the House GOP caucus vote with Democrats and accept a tax increase on wealthier Americans.

“That’s a real easy one if Speaker Boehner can deliver maybe 30 or 35 votes. I’d think we’d be happy to pass that and we’d avert that huge tax increase at the beginning of next year,” he says. “And then we can extend the spending limits and delay the across the board cuts until a more comprehensive, balanced approach is negotiated.”

It is thought that the president’s re-election could be a political wrecking ball to break the gridlock, and a number of key Republicans who signed a pledge authored by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist have indicated they may break that promise.

From The National Journal:

Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, said on Monday on CBS’s

This Morning

that he is “not obligated” on the anti-tax pledge, adding that “the last thing we need to do right now is kick the can down the road.” 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Sunday that he will not give way to raising tax rates, but he also said Republicans need to be open to increasing government revenues.

(SNIP)

Last week, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., told a local television station that he is more worried about the fiscal cliff than he is about adhering to the pledge, prompting a response from Norquist, Politico reported.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., echoed these sentiments, saying times have changed since he first signed the pledge.

But many GOP lawmakers are still pushing for cuts to welfare and government spending as part of the deal, adding that much-needed changes to Social Security and Medicare should also be on the table.

Yarmuth says those reforms cannot be accomplished before the end of the year, however.

“People are dreaming if they think we’re going to get a deal on entitlements in three weeks. That’s just not going to happen, and I think it would be irresponsible to try to come up with any approach to entitlement reform in such a compressed period of time,” he says.

Lawmakers return to Washington on Tuesday.

UPDATE:

The Obama administration is confident a deal can be reached, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney hinted that—despite Yarmuth’s warning Monday morning—entitlement reform could be part of the fiscal cliff conversation.

From BuzzFeed:

Meanwhile, Carney indicated the White House may break with some congressional Democrats, who don’t want to bring entitlement programs into the discussion.

“We need to look at Medicare and Medicaid,” Carney said, echoing previous statements by Obama.

But Carney said Social Security should not be roped in because it does not contribute to the deficit at the moment. He added that Obama would be open to looking at solutions to strengthen Social Security going forward, but not as part of these ongoing talks.

Carney did not indicate whether Obama would be open to raising the eligibility age for Medicare — an option many Democrats are vowing to oppose.

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