Republicans pushed back Monday against President Obama’s harsh criticism of the GOP over a stalled extension of unemployment benefits.

As the president slammed Senate Republicans in the Rose Garden for having held up legislation extending the benefits, the GOP sought to turn up the heat on Obama about the deficit.

“The president knows that Republicans support extending unemployment insurance and doing it in a fiscally responsible way by cutting spending elsewhere in the $3 trillion federal budget,” said House GOP leader John Boehner (Ohio). “At a time of record debt and deficits made worse by Washington Democrats’ massive spending spree, that’s the right thing to do and the right way to do it.”

Republicans on the other side of the Capitol sought to turn the president’s own rhetoric on the deficit against him.

“In the interest of fairness and all, I thought I should highlight the President’s previous strong stand on the need to be “fiscally responsible” and, you know, actually pay for UI benefits (and, for color, he also made these comments in the Rose Garden),” wrote Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in an e-mail to reporters. 

At issue are the stalled benefits, which expired weeks ago after 41 Republicans held together to oppose the benefits unless they were offset by spending cuts elsewhere. Obama and Democrats in Congress have called the benefits extension an emergency, which would exempt the bill from normal budgetary rules in Congress. 

“It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics,” the president said Monday morning in the Rose Garden. “It’s time to do what’s right, not for the next election, but for the middle class.”

Democrats will try again to pass the legislation on Tuesday and expect to have the votes to do so following the swearing-in on Monday afternoon of Carte Goodwin (D), who was appointed to fill the remainder of the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) Senate term. 

But while the vote to extend benefits might have all but a predetermined outcome, both sides see political opportunity in the fight.

Stewart e-mailed to highlight remarks Obama made in November upon signing a benefits bill into law, during which the president touted the offset spending in that legislation. 

“Now, some cynics might point out that if the President believed it was ‘fiscally responsible’ to pay for UI benefits eight months ago in the Rose Garden, he must believe that it is fiscally IRresponsible to add them to the debt in today’s Rose Garden remarks — especially since our national debt has grown $1.25 TRILLION — in those eight months alone,” wrote the aide to the top Senate Republican (emphasis his).