"How we get there, God only knows," the Ohio Republican said of efforts to protect the economy — and taxpayers — from the tax increases and spending cuts.
"Now is the time to show leadership, not kick the can down the road," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said a little over a week ago after Boehner announced he would shift his own focus from bipartisan talks to the approach that eventually was torpedoed by his own rank and file.
It's a phrase that political leaders use when they want to suggest others want to avoid tackling major problems, and one that Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and even Obama as well as Reid have used.
"We have a spending problem. We have to address it, And we're not going to address it by kicking the can down the road," the speaker said at a news conference late last week when he was asked about setting a vote on a plan that Democrats find acceptable.
Cantor recently used the same approach in challenging Obama to agree to savings from Medicare and other benefit programs. "This has to be a part of this agreement or else we just continue to dig the hole deeper, asking folks to allow us to kick the can down the road further and that we don't want to do," he said on Nov. 28.
In fact, it's a phrase that has been in use for over a year as Obama and Republicans jockey for position on pocketbook issues.
In July 2011, when he was struggling with Republicans over the threat of a first-ever government default, Obama said he had "heard reports that there may be some in Congress who want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term. But then wants to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem, our deficit."
A few months later, an extension of a payroll tax cut was the issue, and Boehner was insisting on a year-long renewal rather than the temporary plan that passed the Senate with votes from lawmakers in both parties.
"How can you do tax policy for two months?" he asked on Dec. 18, 2011. "I believe that two months is just kicking the can down the road.
"The American people are tired of that."
At issue now is series of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to kick in with the new year that economists caution could send the economy into a recession.
AP Economics Writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.