WASHINGTON - After weeks of failed haggling, the fiscal cliffhanger is at hand as US lawmakers convene Sunday in a bid to strike a year-end deal that avoids huge tax hikes and possibly spending cuts set to kick in January 1.
With the clock ticking ever closer to the New Year's time bomb, the suddenly alarmed Senate and House were holding special sessions 36 hours before the year-end deadline for a plan that would keep America from tumbling off the so-called fiscal cliff.
The stakes in the game of holiday-interrupting brinkmanship are enormous.
Economists agree the $500 billion in fiscal pain due to hit when the new year starts would stifle the US economic recovery and send the country back into recession, spelling bad news for the global economy as well.
Aides to both sides' leaders in the Democrat-controlled Senate worked feverishly behind closed doors Saturday to fashion a deal palatable to Democrats as well as to Republicans, who control the House of Representatives.
The Senate convenes Sunday at 1:00 pm (1800 GMT) while the House goes into session an hour later, with no votes expected before 2330 GMT.
Both chambers would have little time to debate and then pass a deal that has eluded the White House and Congress for weeks.
President Barack Obama, who called congressional leaders to the White House on Friday, will address the crisis once more when he gives an interview on NBC's Sunday morning talk show "Meet the Press."