Call it a bigger, bolder version of the deadline-driven congressional stalemates over taxes and spending that have come to define Washington dysfunction of the past two years.
The latest edition of political "blinksmanship" pits President Barack Obama and Democrats against Speaker John Boehner and Republicans on how to avoid the fiscal cliff -- automatic tax increases for everyone and deep spending cuts including for the military that will be triggered in the new year without an agreement.
While the focus now is on a possible agreement in coming days or weeks, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist told CNN on Monday that the nation should gird for long-range battle.
"This is a long fight. It's four years of a fight. It's not one week of a fight," said Norquist, who has threatened to mount primary challenges against Republicans who violate a pledge they signed at his behest against ever voting for a tax increase.
With neither side showing any sign of blinking, however, the battlefield will probably shift to the Senate this week after GOP disarray in the House stymied any progress before Christmas.
Congress and the president are taking a holiday break, with plans to return to work Thursday to try to find a deal in the final five days of the year.
Economists warn that failing to avoid the fiscal cliff could spark recession, and stocks opened lower Monday amid no sign of the Washington impasse ending.
According to multiple Democratic and Republican sources, no weekend conversations occurred between the White House and Senate leaders from either party or their aides.
The main dispute continues to be over taxes, specifically the demand by Obama and Democrats to extend most of the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush while allowing higher rates of the 1990s to return on top income brackets.
Republicans oppose any kind of increase in tax rates, and Boehner suffered the political indignity last week of offering a compromise that his colleagues refused to support.
While both sides say they want to avoid the fiscal cliff, signs are emerging that a deal would come after the new year to blunt the harshest impacts. Under that scenario, legislators would vote to lower taxes from the higher rates that will go into effect in January when the Bush cuts expire, with the new top rates staying intact.
The sources described to CNN three possible options for moving ahead, all resting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
One would be to amend a House measure passed in July that extends the Bush tax cuts for everyone. The changes would return to higher rates on top brackets, which Obama defines as family income up to $250,000, and also could include the president's call to extend unemployment benefits and some of the fiscal cliff spending cuts.
A second possibility would involve a Senate measure that Democrats passed in July with no Republican support. It calls for the Obama plan of extending the current tax cuts on family income up to $250,000.
However, the Senate version has a constitutional problem because by law, measures that raise revenue must originate in the House. Boehner said Friday that the Senate plan has a "blue slip" problem, which refers to an objection that it is unconstitutional and therefore remains lodged in the Senate.
While one Democratic source said the Senate version could get taken up in the House if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell or Boehner don't raise a blue-slip objection, Republican sources rejected that scenario.
Reid also could take a different revenue-raising bill from the House and rewrite it as a tax and spending measure to address fiscal cliff issues, the sources explained.
With Republicans holding filibuster power in the Democratic-majority Senate, at least seven GOP senators would have to join Democrats on such a plan before the end of the year. With McConnell up for re-election in 2014, he is considered unlikely to risk angering the party's conservative base by supporting a compromise or allowing one to pass on a simple majority vote that would need no GOP backing, sources said.
In the new Senate that will convene in early January, the number of Republicans needed to pass a deal would be five because of Democratic gains in November, when Obama won re-election.
According to a senior administration official, the president is still holding to his promise not to sign a short-term bill that extends Bush-era tax cuts across the board to buy time for a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. So, absent a deal that includes increasing income-tax rates for wealthy Americans, the country is still headed for the cliff.
But the administration official told CNN it's still possible to resolve the impasse: "The unanimous desire to avoid the fiscal cliff will hopefully animate everybody," the official said.
According to a Senate Republican leadership aide, Republicans reject Obama's $250,000 threshold for tax cut extensions. Meanwhile, a Senate Democratic leadership aide lamented McConnell's apparent unwillingness to negotiate.
"We're going to be here New Year's Eve," retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," adding that it was likely the nation would go over the fiscal cliff.
Failing to meet the year-end deadline on striking a deal would amount to "the most colossal, consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time," said Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who caucuses with Democrats. "Maybe ever in American history, because of the impact it will have on almost every American."
However, Norquist called the situation part of a longer process.