"They're trying to figure out where they go next," Geithner said of Republicans, "and we might need to give them a little time to figure out where they go next."
He called the back-and-forth "normal political theater," saying all that's blocking a timely deal is the GOP's reluctance to accept higher tax rates on the wealthy.
"It's welcome that they're recognizing that revenues are going to have to go up. But they haven't told us anything about how far rates should go up . . . (and) who should pay higher taxes," Geithner said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that she will try to force a vote on the Senate-passed bill favored by Democrats to avert a fiscal cliff. But she was unlikely to line up enough Republicans to succeed.
Republican leaders have said they accept higher tax revenue overall, but only through what they call tax reform - closing loopholes and limiting deductions - and only coupled with tough measures to curb the explosive growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
"If we gave the president $1.6 trillion of new money, what do you think he'd do with it?" asked Boehner. "He's going to spend it. It's what Washington does."
Cole didn't back down Sunday on his earlier comments that Republicans should agree to Obama's plan for continuing Bush's tax rates for middle-class America and focus the negotiations on the other issues. Doing so, he said, would make the GOP position even stronger.
"The reality is, nobody can look at this budget and think if you don't reform entitlements you can balance it. You can give the president every tax increase he's asked for, you'd still be in the hole," he said.
Geithner appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation," NBC's "Meet the Press," CNN's "State of the Union," ABC's "This Week" and "Fox News Sunday." Cole appeared on ABC "This Week."