Some key dates for negotiations involving the White House and congressional leaders to avert the year-end series of federal tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff":
_ It's unclear if and when a deal may be reached, but it's unlikely to be before Christmas. Senators are expected to leave for their holiday break Thursday or Friday.
_ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said lawmakers would return to the Capitol on Dec. 27, the Thursday after Christmas, to try to hammer out a compromise.
_ President Barack Obama's family is expected to be in Hawaii for Christmas, but the president is hanging back for now in Washington.
_ If lawmakers reach Dec. 31 without a deal, financial markets might start to fall. House Speaker John Boehner and Obama are working to avoid that crunch point.
_ The current Congress is in session only through noon Eastern on Jan. 3, so that is the deadline for it to approve a solution.
_ Without an agreement, the tax increases and spending cuts would begin to go into effect and it would be up to the newly elected Congress that arrives Jan. 3 to try again for compromise.