Corker: Why We Should Just Raise Taxes on the Rich

Senator Bob Corker
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Senator Bob Corker

Republicans need to let tax rates on the rich rise to change the "fiscal cliff" debate from taxes to more important entitlement reforms, Republican Sen. Bob Corker told CNBC on Monday.

"The best place for Republicans to be is to pass the rate increases, be done with it and then we're still focused on the right thing, which is entitlement changes," he said in an interview on "Squawk on the Street."

Over the weekend, Corker and a handful of other Republicans including Sen. Tom Coburn and Rep. Tom Cole, both from Oklahoma, signaled a willingness to let taxes rise.

Corker said Republicans have put themselves in a very "awkward place" as it relates to taxes on the wealthy, since it makes it appear that the party is only trying to protect the rich.

The deadline for avoiding the "fiscal cliff" is only three weeks from Tuesday. If a deal can't be reached by then, more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts automatically go into effect, threatening to throw the economy back into recession.

President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner met on Sunday, raising hopes for a deal. (Read More: '40% Chance' of Fiscal Cliff Deal Before Year End: Bowles.)

The two sides declined to provide details about the meeting. In a statement Monday, Boehner's office said: "The Republican offer made last week remains the Republican offer, and we continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he's willing to make as part of the 'balanced' approach he promised the American people." (Read More: Obama Hits the Road Amid Signs of 'Cliff' Progress.)

Corker said that the House could change the "fiscal cliff" debate and regain some leverage from President Barack Obama by sending the Senate a bill that freezes taxes on 98 percent of Americans. If the House passed a second bill that dealt with taxes on the wealthy in some form, the discussion could move back to entitlements.

"Right now there is no question in my mind the president has the slight upper hand in the negotiations," Corker said.

(Read More: Forget the 'Fiscal Cliff,' Look at These Cliffs.)

Corker said he is worried that Republicans are not holding out for the type of entitlement reform that will help contain spending.

"I don't want us to give away the sequester, I don't want us to give away the debt ceiling unless we've done something extremely substantial on entitlements, which is the only thing that's going to help us get spending in the right order," the Tennessee Republican said.