Geithner: Social Security Off the Table for Now

Tim Geithner testifies on Capitol Hill. (National Journal)

With just a few weeks remaining before the crucial "fiscal cliff" deadline, the White House's chief negotiator, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, said Social Security was off the table.

Some Democrats have said they were willing to look at reforming entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, but Social Security, it seems, has not been under consideration. Geithner on Sunday said it would only get dealt with "in a separate process."

"We're prepared to, in a separate process, look at how to strengthen Social Security," he said on ABC's This Week. "But not as part of a process to reduce the other deficits the country faces."

Geithner echoed what White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier in the week, when he said the president preferred to deal with Social Security at a later time.

"Social Security is not currently a driver of the deficit," Carney said on Monday. "That's an economic fact"¦.The president supports engaging with Congress on a separate track to strengthen Social Security for the long term."

Geithner sounded optimistic on Sunday that both sides could come through with a deal. Talks between the White House and Congress are still in their early stages, but Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said this week that they were in "a stalemate" over raising tax rates and entitlement spending. Still, Geithner said the "political theatre" could be a sign of progress.

"I actually think that we're gonna get there," he said, adding, "Think we're actually making a little bit of progress, but we're still some distance apart."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., sounded less optimistic.

"I think we're going over the cliff," Graham said on CBS's Face the Nation. "It's pretty clear to me (the White House) made a political calculation."

One of the proposals the Obama administration has floated is giving the White House authority to raise the debt limit with some Congressional checks, an idea originally proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during debt ceiling negotiations last year, though McConnell never intended it to be permanent, as the White House is now suggesting.

Geithner said such authority would give the president the ability to "lift the cloud of default over the economy," while also giving Republicans political cover.

"Congress then has a chance to express its view to disapprove that," Geithner continued. "It was a very smart way by a senator with impeccable Republican credentials to again, lift this threat, this periodic threat of default in the American economy."

Geithner echoed Obama's speech on Friday at a toy factory in Pennsylvania, where he pushed for a Senate-passed bill that extends middle-class tax cuts now so that Congress can separately address raising the rates on the top two percent of Americans.

He said Congressional Republicans were in a difficult position politically, which could hold up negotiations.

"You got to recognize that they're in a very difficult place," he said. "And they recognize they're gonna have to move on a bunch of things. But they don't know really how to do it yet."

He added on CNN's State of the Union, "There's not going to be an agreement without rates going up."