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Senate showdown set for Monday

<p>Fiscal talks took a step backwards earlier today when Republicans insisted on including chained CPI in the agreement.</p>
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Biden
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Biden

Fiscal talks took a step backwards earlier today when Republicans insisted on including chained CPI in the agreement. A Senate Democratic aide told me this afternoon, "We believed it was mutually understood that chained CPI was off the table for a smaller-scale agreement, and see Republicans' continued insistence on including it as a major setback."

Democrats held firm, and soon after, GOP members backed off -- at least on this one provision.

Negotiations over a last-ditch agreement to head off large tax increases and sweeping spending cuts in the new year appeared to resume on Sunday afternoon after Republican senators withdrew a demand that any deal must include a new way of calculating inflation that would lower payments to beneficiary programs like Social Security and slow their growth.Senate Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting to say they agreed with Democrats that the request -- which had temporarily brought talks to a standstill -- was not appropriate for a quick deal to avert the tax increases and spending cuts starting Jan. 1.To hold the line against raising taxes on high-income households while fighting for cuts to Social Security was "not a winning hand," said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

Imagine that. Republicans were, in effect, arguing, "We'll raise middle class taxes unless Democrats accept Social Security cuts." It would seem "not a winning hand" is an understatement.

But while the GOP's shift in posture helped keep the talks from collapsing entirely, the remaining areas of disagreement -- estate taxes, the sequester, extending jobless benefits, a debt-ceiling extension -- have not been, and may ultimately not be, resolved.

With this in mind, the stage has been set for an interesting Senate showdown tomorrow.

On the one hand, there are the ongoing efforts to reach a compromise. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had nothing more to offer Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), so the Republican has now begun negotiating with Vice President Biden.

If they can work something out -- what such an agreement might look like is hard to imagine at this point -- the bill would be brought to the Senate sometime after 11 a.m. tomorrow. And if it were to pass, the House would have a half-day, or perhaps a little less, to consider the agreement, bring to the floor, and vote on it.

On the other hand, if no Senate deal emerges, Reid will take President Obama's advice, bring the White House's original offer -- lower rates on income up to $250,000 and extended unemployment benefits -- and dare Senate Republicans to filibuster it.

And what about the House? Leaders in the lower chamber aren't saying much at this point, in large part because they have no idea what the Senate will do, but the House is already prepared to waive its three-day rule -- the measure intended to give members time to read a bill before voting on it -- and House Speaker John Boehner has already committed to both sides that he will bring to the floor any bill that passes the Senate.

We'll know a bit more by morning.