WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON — Turning the newfound optimism for a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" into an actual deal will take 72 hours of deft political and procedural maneuvering through many of the same traps that have so far prevented an agreement.
Democrats and Republicans still have very different notions of who should pay higher taxes and who shouldn't. And whatever party leaders come up with must still go through the thicket of politics in the slow-moving Senate and the anything-goes House.
"We're trying to get the Rubik's Cube all lined up," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Friday evening.
The first step began Friday night, when senior aides to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., began negotiating pieces of a fiscal puzzle that must be fit together by the time the ball drops on New Year's Eve.
Those talks are expected to continue Saturday, when both chambers of Congress will be shut down so Senate leaders can craft a deal that both of their caucuses are willing to accept.
Taxes remain the primary sticking point. Republicans have signaled a willingness to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all income up to $400,000, while Democrats prefer the $250,000 figure that Obama campaigned on, according to sources in both parties.
Tied into that discussion was another over the estate tax, with Republicans and some western Democrats pushing to keep estates worth up to $5 million exempt from taxes, while Obama pushed to lower the threshold to $3.5 million.
Politically, the key is not just to pass something out of the Democratically controlled Senate, but also to do so with enough votes from Republicans to compel their House counterparts to support a deal. A bill with limited support from Senate Republicans would be dead on arrival in the GOP-dominated House, aides in both chambers said.