Even as the holiday season is fast approaching, the US Senate appears to have hit the crossroads.
US President Barack Obama's Republican foes vowed Friday to derail legislation to enact health care reform, his top domestic priority, aiming to thwart plans for its passage by Christmas.
The president's Democratic allies, meanwhile, strove to unify their side in a bid to firm up a strategy that could set the stage for a key vote shortly after midnight Monday and possible final showdown on Christmas Eve.
And, with a massive snowstorm poised to hammer the US capital, they pounded Republicans for trying to delay an annual military spending bill in a bid to thwart action on health care.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he expected an as-yet undisclosed Democratic compromise would likely be unveiled early Saturday and mocked prospects the bill would secure the 60 votes needed to ensure passage.
"I think there's a good chance that they will not be able to get their members to lock arms and walk off the cliff in obvious defiance of the American people," McConnell told reporters.
With the chamber's 40 Republicans expected to stay united against the plan, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has zero margin for error.
A handful of hold-outs among the 58 Democrats and two independents in the Senate were still warning him that the measure must change to win their support.
Reid awaited the return of a complete reckoning of the legislation's cost and scope from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office as he and top deputies, aided by the White House, sought to corral wavering senators.
McConnell ruled out any prospect that Republicans would abandon their efforts to kill what he called an "unfixable" bill and indicated he would use any procedural tactics available to stall the vote as long as possible.
"It is our intention not to pass this bill easily," he said. "I don't think anybody in the room has missed it. We don't think this bill ought to pass, and we're not in a hurry to complete it."
Reid "is trying to jam the American people on this mysterious bill that no one has seen before Christmas," said McConnell. "It needs to be stopped."
Republican Senator John McCain, Obama's defeated 2008 rival for the White House, expressed outrage that Reid's compromise plan would be made public less than two days before a key procedural vote was expected.
"I mean, if there's ever an example of 'the devil is in the details' -- we need to know how we're going to do this," he said.
The White House-backed bill aims to extend coverage to some 31 million Americans out of the roughly 36 million who currently lack it, while curbing soaring costs and improving the quality of care.
The United States is the world's richest nation but the only industrialized democracy that does not provide health care coverage to all of its citizens.
Washington spends more than double what Britain, France and Germany do per person on health care, but lags behind other countries in life expectancy and infant mortality, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).