As a tentative deal is finalized today, House Speaker John Boehner dismissed criticism that Republicans buckled under pressure and accepted an unfunded extension of the payroll-tax credit, instead blaming Democrats for an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith.
"We were not going to allow the Democrats to continue to play political games and raise taxes on working Americans," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "So we made a decision to bring them to the table so the games would stop and we would get this work done."
The move to proceed on legislation that extends the payroll-tax credit without offsets has drawn disapproval from some of the speaker's rank-and-file members.
"I'm not a 'yes' right now. It's bad policy to start off with," Rep. Dennis Ross, a freshman Republican from Florida, said after he learned details of the potential deal. "Why are we arguing over a middle-class tax cut that has been given to us to reduce the amount that we're paying into Social Security?"
Asked whether there could be any political consequences for Republicans in next fall's elections for allowing $100 billion to be added to the deficit, the speaker pointed to cuts achieved in the Budget Control Act last summer as proof that the GOP has worked to fulfill its promise to cut spending.
"We've worked all year to cut spending," Boehner said. "When you look at the results from last year, you'll see $2.1 trillion worth of spending that was cut from the budget, almost all of it on the discretionary side."
Boehner also emphasized that unemployment insurance is changed and paid for, in addition to offsets for the year-long extension for the so-called Doc Fix for physicians providing Medicare services.
The House Republican rank and file fumed in December when Boehner accepted the Senate's two-month stop-gap extension even though the House had passed a year-long extension with offsets. The bill was eventually passed by unanimous consent.
Boehner said the House could vote as soon as the end of the week after the conference report is finalized. "They're just trying to work out all of the details," Boehner said. "There's an agreement in principle, but there are a lot of details that are yet to be worked out. I'm hopeful that that will be wrapped up today."
Still, the speaker clearly preferred to focus his concentration today on the president's budget proposal, which was submitted to Congress Monday.
"The president's policies are not helping our economy. Matter of fact, a lot of people would argue those policies are actually making it worse," Boehner said. "When you look at the president's budget submission on Monday, it shows a real lack of leadership.
"This'll be [President Obama's] fourth budget that will have over a trillions dollars' worth of budget deficit, and when you add the budget deficits up over the president's submissions over the last four years, we're talking about over $5 trillion worth of new debt, no real activity when it comes to cutting spending," he added. "What we need in our economy is to get control of our spending, cut spending, keep taxes low, in order to get more Americans back to work."
The speaker pressed Senate Democrats to enact some of the 30 House-passed bills that have yet to be considered in the upper chamber.
"Our focus all year's been on jobs," he said. "If the president's serious about getting our economy going again, he'll call on [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid and tell the Senate Democrats: 'Consider these bills.' They all passed the House with broad bipartisan support, and they deserve consideration in the United States Senate, so that we can in fact put the American people back to work."
UPDATE from ABC's Ann Compton at the White House:
The White House is not committing President Obama to the payroll tax cut deal until the sees the fine print. But Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on board Air Force One Wednesday " this is an extremely high priority for him and he welcomes positive signs of progress. "
President Obama is making a three day trip to Western states, mixing economic events and political campaign fundraising.
"We have always believed," Carney added. "Congress could, and should, handle this issue extending the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance, and the 'doc fix' without drama and without delay and hopefully that is what will happen but obviously we will wait and see what emerges from Congress."