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Some things never change: Negotiations in Washington always go down to the last minute.

Soit is with the so-called "fiscal cliff," the series of tax hikes andbudget cuts that take effect next year if the White House and Congressare unable to reach a debt reduction deal.

And next year is a little more than a week away.

WithPresident Obama and Congress taking a Christmas break -- amid the stopsand starts of recent weeks -- it looks like they will need everypossible hour to avoid going over the cliff on Jan. 1.

"I told mycolleagues they're just doing it to make sure that those of us who areretiring this year work every last day of our term," said Sen. JoeLieberman, I-Conn., on CNN's State of the Union.

He added: "We're going to spend New Year's Eve here, I believe."

It wouldn't shock us.

Withthe year running out, more lawmakers question whether they agree on abig deal to reduce the nation's $16 trillion-plus debt, or a smaller oneto get past the fiscal cliff.

"It is going to be a patch because in four days we can't solve everything," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tex.

Obama, meanwhile, may monitor events from Hawaii, where he is on vacation with his family.

Ifthe government goes over the cliff on Jan. 1, Obama and Congress canalso pass retroactive legislation to deal with the automatic tax hikes.

Anyway it works, it adds up to a busy post-Christmas season for Obama andCongress -- in the latter case until Jan. 3, when a new Congress issworn in.

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