By Dan Linehan
The Free Press
Rep. Tim Walz said Saturday that he's hopeful a short-term deal to avert a Jan. 1 deadline on tax increases and spending cuts is possible.
And the Mankato Democrat said he's ready to be part of that solution.
"It's very important, both publicly and privately, to tell (House Speaker John) Boehner that my votes are there to get us to what we need: A big deal," he said during a 1:30 p.m. conference call with reporters.
Though Walz said a big deal on taxes and spending is necessary, he said there's no longer enough time for a comprehensive budget deal ahead of the deadline, sometimes called a "fiscal cliff."
Instead, he said Congress should "come back in a calmer setting and get a long-term bill done early in the year."
But will Democrats really be willing to cut spending when they don't have a deadline looming? Walz said he will.
"I have never said we wouldn't tackle the cuts," he said.
But he called the across-the-board cuts that would take effect without a deal "lazy," and especially took issue to $16 billion in cuts to Tricare, the military's health care plan.
He said he'll "fight until I'm blue in the face to get them to pull the Tricare cuts out."
Walz borrowed a metaphor from the president, saying allowing these tax cuts and spending decreases to hit all at once would be like a "self-inflicted wound."
"I would like to stress again that the public deserves better, the American people deserve better," Walz said.
Also on Jan. 1, doctors' payments from Medicare are slated to drop by 27 percent. Walz said it's important to avoid this hike, "especially in the 1st District of Minnesota with so many medical institutions."
But removing the program that controls payments -- meant to tie Medicare reimbursement to the economy's growth rate -- would leave a $245 billion hole in the federal budget over the next decade, the Washington Post reports.
Walz also said he's willing to be flexible in negotiations about who will be seeing tax increases.
While he thinks incomes above $250,000 should see increases, he said the compromise threshold appears to be $400,000, and he's willing to support that.
"I can't be rigid on that and ask that others not be rigid," said Walz, who is returning to Washington, D.C. this morning.
Even so, he said, some Republicans won't budge no matter the figure.
"He (Boehner) has enough people over there who don't care if it's a billion, they still won't agree," he said.
But Walz suggested that he wouldn't be bound by ideology or partisanship.
"This isn't a game, this isn't poker, this is people's lives."