"It looks like that is where we're headed," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, if only because so little time is left before the end of the year.
Lawmakers are now starting to say that the next Congress -- the one that will be sworn in Jan. 3 -- will have to work on a debt reduction deal, including legislation to deal retroactively with the tax increases that take effect on Jan. 1.
One advantage of this approach: Senate and House members in the next Congress would be able to argue next year that they are voting to cut taxes; the tax hikes would already be in effect.
The parties have been trying for months to agree on a new plan to reduce the federal debt that now exceeds $16 trillion.
If they don't get at agreement by New Year's Day on Tuesday, the nation goes over the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- a series of automatic tax hikes and budget cuts that take are scheduled to take effect in the weeks ahead.
Reid blamed the Republican-run House led by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, saying they have refused to even vote on plans to reduce the debt with higher taxes on the wealthy as well as budget cuts.
Boehner said it's up to Reid and the Senate Democrats to act on measures passed by the House that emphasize reduced spending.
Reid and Boehner are among those who meet with Obama at 3 p.m. at the White House. The guest also includes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
There is at least one certainty in the days ahead: The George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire on Jan. 1, meaning taxes will go up for everybody.
Of course, this gives the next Congress an opportunity to cut taxes, perhaps a key to an eventual deal on reducing the debt.
(Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY)