WASHINGTON -- House Republicans -- including a top leader -- expressed opposition Tuesday to the Senate-approved fiscal cliff agreement because it lacks sufficient spending cuts, complicating its chances of final passage.
Criticism surfaced during a close-door meeting hosted by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA.
"The lack of spending cuts in the Senate bill was a universal concern amongst members in today's meeting," said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. "Conversations with members will continue throughout the afternoon on the path forward."
During the session, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told colleagues, "I'm opposed to this deal," according to a lawmaker in the room who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record about private deliberations.
It was unclear if Cantor would vote against the bill in the end, but his opposition is an early warning sign the Senate-passed bill may face problems in the House.
The GOP caucused after Vice President Biden huddled with House Democrats, seeking to build support for proposal designed to avoid the tax hikes and budget cuts associated with the fiscal cliff that took effect with the new year.
The flurry of House activity came just hours after the Senate approved an agreement in the wee hours of New Year's Day, the deadline for the cliff.
The plan worked out between the White House and Senate leaders would raise taxes on the wealthy, eliminate some -- but not all -- tax hikes for the middle class, and defer a series of budget cuts for two months.
It's not known when, or even if, the House will vote on the package, which critics say does little to reduce the nation's debt and only delays a looming battle over the debt ceiling.
GOP members emerging from the meeting made clear that Republicans have broad concerns about the bill and that a vote today was in question. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., said Republicans are discussing amending the package to add additional spending cuts.
"I would be shocked if this bill didn't go back to the Senate," Bachus told reporters.
Doing so would throw the whole deal in to question as the Senate has already passed a bill and this Congress ends at noon Thursday -- erasing all prior action and leaving Congress to start anew with roughly 100 new lawmakers entering the House and Senate Jan. 3.
Some prominent House conservatives -- including Reps. Justin Amash and Jason Chaffetz -- have also said they will oppose the package.
Some critics pointed to a Tuesday report by the Congressional Budget Office, saying the Senate bill would add nearly $4 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade, largely because it extends the lower income tax rates for nearly every American.
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-WI., the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, declined to talk to reporters on his way into the closed door GOP meeting. "Happy New Year's, guys," he said.
Ryan is widely viewed as a prospective candidate in the 2016 presidential election; two additional potential GOP candidates, Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, voted against the bill early Tuesday.
Under the Senate deal, taxes would remain steady for the middle class and rise at incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples - levels higher than President Obama had campaigned for in his successful drive for a second term in office.
Spending cuts totaling $24 billion over two months aimed at the Pentagon and domestic programs would be deferred. That would allow the White House and lawmakers time to regroup before plunging very quickly into a new round of budget brinkmanship certain to revolve around Republican calls to rein in the cost of Medicare and other government benefit programs.
Shortly after the Senate vote, President Obama said, "While neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted, this agreement is the right thing to do for our country and the House should pass it without delay."
Obama also said the bill takes a balanced approach to shrinking the U.S. deficit by "investing in (the) middle class" while "asking the wealthy to pay a little more."
One set of taxes is set to go up in 2013: The deal does not address the end of the payroll tax holiday on Tuesday. That tax will rise by 2%, back to its 2010 level.
The deal also stops scheduled pay increases for Congress set for spring 2013 and includes a nine-month extension of the farm bill, which had been delayed for months because of differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation that sets U.S. agricultural policy every five years.
The agreement does not address any increase in the nation's debt ceiling, which -- combined with the delay of automatic spending cuts -- sets up the distinct possibility of another cliff-like budget battle in February.
The omission of the debt ceiling dismayed some liberal Democrats, including Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Their criticism prompted Biden to visit Capitol Hill late Monday.
"He's here to hear members' concerns and respond to them," said Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson.