WASHINGTON -- The House and Senate will be in session on Sunday to try to avoid the looming Monday fiscal cliff deadline as President Barack Obama is daring GOP senators to filibuster a Democratic-drafted bill.
Obama said after meeting with the four top congressional leaders on Friday that he was "optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time."
The last-ditch sprint to avert a fiscal crisis will start in the Senate, possibly on Sunday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and their staffs are working this weekend on a filibuster-proof compromise.
In the event the Senate leaders can't cut a deal, Obama called on Reid to ask for an up-or-down vote on a bare-bones package that would avoid tax hikes that would impact almost everyone in the nation.
Democrats hold the majority in the Senate -- but Republicans have leverage because a supermajority of 60 votes are needed to avoid a filibuster threat.
Obama is betting that Republicans don't want to take the heat for blocking a roll call on a bill -- just because it could win with Democratic votes alone.
The Senate Democrats huddle at 3 p.m. Sunday, with GOP senators likely to hold their own conference.
House members are returning from their Christmas break by 6:30 p.m. on Sunday -- to be on stand-by in case the Senate can send them a bill.
Whether any legislation the Senate sends to the House could survive is compounded by the lack of time for lawmakers to digest details.
"We're dealing with big numbers," Reid said from the Senate floor on Friday. "And some of the stuff we do is somewhat complicated."
Obama makes a rare Sunday morning talk show appearance when he guests on NBC's "Meet the Press," where I expect he will press the case for up-and-down votes in the House and Senate.
I bet that few outside of Washington really care about arcane House and Senate rules that govern how bills get to the floor for a vote and in this context will be utterly unsympathetic to congressional procedures that led to the fiscal cliff crisis.
Obama is confident that there is a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate who do not want the blame for large tax increases that will sock everyone if Congress does nothing.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) guests Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" to discuss the fiscal cliff stalemate.
Even if the Senate gets a bill to the House, its fate would be uncertain because House members would be -- though not for certain -- able to offer amendments.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are not involved in any weekend negotiations, waiting for the Senate to send them something. Pelosi, after the Friday White House meeting, was asked if her members would back letting tax hikes rise on households with incomes of $400,000 or $500,000 -- more than the $250,000 Obama had campaigned on.
"It's very hard to answer anything in isolation, it depends on what the package is, it depends on what the package is," Pelosi said.
I've spent most of this column on process, because the policy proposals are informed at this stage by what can pass.
While a lot of mega numbers are under discussion -- the size of the automatic federal spending cuts to be imposed if Congress does nothing is $1.2 trillion over 10 years -- the most important numbers are these:
It takes 217 votes in the House, 60 (or maybe this time 50) votes in the Senate to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff.