Corker: ‘We’re not close to a deal’

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday he was surprised by media reports indicating that a “fiscal cliff” deal might be imminent.

“We’re not close to a deal,” Corker said on CNBC’s Squawk Box.

Corker put the blame squarely on President Obama, saying Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had been “heroic in his efforts to try and keep this country from going through this again next year.”

Obama and Boehner (R-Ohio) met for 45 minutes at the White House on Monday, and the day ended with a new offer from the president, leading many to believe the pace of negotiations was quickening.

Boehner rejected the offer, although his office called it “a step in the right direction.”

But Corker on Tuesday threw cold water on the notion that a deal was in the making. He was asked directly if it was possible the parties might reach a deal by the end of the week.

“No,” he said. “We’re not. I think the House – this is my guess, unless there’s a huge change that occurred this morning, I think the House will move to rescue the bulk of the country from a tax increase. It’s possible that if something hugely dramatic occurs, other than what has happened already, maybe something happens by year [end].”

The White House and Congress are running out of time to complete an agreement by Christmas, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday that it appeared likely the Senate would have to return to session on Dec. 26 to deal with the fiscal cliff.

The latest offer from the White House lowered its demands for tax increases and includes additional spending cuts, but it falls short of the healthcare savings the GOP wants from reforming entitlement programs such as Medicare.

Corker turned his attention to entitlement reform on Tuesday, saying the House should “just pass a debt ceiling increase today of $1 trillion, accompanied with $1 trillion in entitlement reform.”

“For three weeks I’ve been trying to get us all to pivot to entitlement reform, we’re just now getting to talk about entitlement reform,” he said. “I think it’s unfortunate that we haven’t gotten into the crux of real entitlement reforms that Republicans and Democrats know has to happen.”

On entitlements, Obama is offering to change the way inflation is calculated in benefit programs, including in Social Security, a move opposed by many liberals. The new method, known as chained consumer price index (CPI), would cut $130 billion more in spending and include a provision to protect the most vulnerable.

The Medicare eligibility age remains a sticking point in the talks, with Democrats saying they won’t budge on raising it.