The outcome of the "fiscal cliff" debate will be decided in four days, with just a handful of powerful leaders in Washington calling the shots, for better or for worse.
Here are some of the politicians and administration figures who are involved in trying to head off the tax increases and federal spending cuts that will take hold in January unless Congress acts, possibly pushing the economy into recession.
* Barack Obama, Democratic president: Reelected last month, the former Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois campaigned on the need to raise taxes on high-income Americans. He has insisted on this through the "fiscal cliff" negotiations with Republicans. But he offered them a compromise last week on setting the income threshold for tax increases at a higher level than he had initially sought. This offer was spurned.
* John Boehner, Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives: Capitol Hill veteran from Ohio. Struggles to control conservative Republicans from the Tea Party movement. Walked out of talks with Obama last week and vowed that the House would pass its own plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff." That effort collapsed in disarray. Boehner adjourned the House for the holidays and has not returned. The House was expected to reconvene on Sunday.
* Joseph Biden, Democratic vice president: Played key role in forging the 2010 deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts for two years after the Republican takeover of the House.
* Max Baucus, Democratic U.S. senator from Montana: Powerful chairman of tax-focused Senate Finance Committee. Will cross party lines for a deal. May be vulnerable in a 2014 re-election race.
* Dave Camp, Republican U.S. representative from Michigan: Chairs tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee until 2014. Gets along with Baucus. Has a tax plan of his own.
* Tim Geithner, Treasury secretary: Expected to step down soon, he is the architect of the Obama administration's fiscal policy. Took steps this week to postpone the arrival until some time in February of U.S. government borrowing limit.
* Orrin Hatch, U.S. senator from Utah: Top Republican on Senate Finance Committee. Conservative but has worked with Democrats.
* Mitch McConnell, top Senate Republican: Worked with Biden on extending Bush tax cuts in 2010. Up for re-election in 2014 and faces scrutiny of Tea Party faction at home in Kentucky.
* Grover Norquist , activist: Heads the Americans for Tax Reform group. Almost every Republican in Congress has signed his group's "no new taxes" pledge, but its power may be fading.
* Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic leader: California representative and Obama ally. Powerful among liberal Democrats.
* Harry Reid , Senate Democratic leader: Blunt Utah power-broker and dealmaker. Must balance liberal and conservative factions, with many fellow Democrats up for re-election in 2014.
* Paul Ryan , Republican vice presidential nominee in the 2012 election and House Budget committee chairman: Wisconsin representative known for controversial budget proposals.