After the November 6 elections, urgent tax and spending issues must be addressed, forcing Washington's power players to make some tough decisions before the end of the year.
Here are some of the politicians, administration figures, lobbyists and researchers who must find a way down from the "fiscal cliff" without pushing the economy over the edge.
* Barack Obama, president. Regardless of who wins the November 6 presidential election, Obama will be in the White House during the final months of 2012 when the "fiscal cliff" must be dealt with.
* Thomas Barthold, chief of staff, Joint Committee on Taxation. Behind-the-scenes research chief. His non-partisan team of experts supplies make-or-break analysis to Congress.
* Max Baucus, Montana senator. Powerful Democratic chairman of tax-focused Senate Finance panel. Will cross party lines for a deal. Up for re-election in 2014, may be vulnerable.
* Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman. World's most important central banker. He has warned that mishandling of what he dubbed the "fiscal cliff" could seriously damage the economy.
* Joseph Biden, vice president. Played key role in forging 2010 deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts for two years after Republican takeover of U.S. House of Representatives.
* John Boehner, House speaker. Capitol Hill veteran from Ohio. Struggles with Tea Party wing of his party in House. His work with Obama on deficit 'grand bargain' fell apart in 2011.
* Erskine Bowles, Former Clinton White House chief of staff. Co-chaired Simpson-Bowles deficit-cutting panel. Its report did not get a vote in Congress, but some see it as a reform model.
* Dave Camp, Michigan representative. Republican chairman of tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee until 2014. Gets along with Baucus. Voted against Simpson-Bowles. Has tax plan of his own.
* Timothy Geithner, Treasury secretary. Expected to step down soon, architect of Obama administration fiscal policy has warned against a repeat of 2011 budget drama on Capitol Hill that led to downgrade of the nation's credit rating.
* Group of Eight. Informal, bipartisan group of senators focused on fiscal issues. Includes Democrats Mark Warner, Dick Durbin, Michael Bennet, Kent Conrad; Republicans Saxby Chambliss, Mike Johanns, Tom Coburn, Mike Crapo.
* Orrin Hatch, Utah senator. Top Republican on Senate Finance Committee. Conservative but has worked with Democrats. Shifted right politically to fend off re-election challenge.
* Jack Lew, chief of staff to Obama. Former budget office director to presidents Obama and Clinton. Helped broker latest deal to raise the debt ceiling.
* Mitch McConnell, top Senate Republican. Worked with Biden on extending Bush tax cuts in 2010. Up for re-election in 2014, must balance strong Tea Party faction at home in Kentucky.
* Grover Norquist, activist. Heads Americans for Tax Reform. Almost every Republican in Congress has signed the group's "no new taxes" pledge, but its power may be fading.
* Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic leader. California representative and close Obama ally. Holds sway with 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, Romney's running mate and House Budget panel chairman. Wisconsin representative known for controversial budget proposals. Influential with Tea Party conservatives.
* Alan Simpson, co-chaired Simpson-Bowles committee. Wise-cracking former Republican senator, agrees with Democrats that a deficit-reduction deal will require more government revenue.
* Gene Sperling, Obama adviser. Coordinates economic policy within Obama administration. Held same job under Clinton. Worked for Geithner at Treasury.
* Jeffrey Zients, acting director, Office of Management and Budget. Took over as Obama's top budget official in January. Has had some testy exchanges with Ryan in congressional hearings.