Perhaps the post-election optimism over the possibility of a deal to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" has been overdone? With lawmakers returning today from holiday, the issue of looming harsh tax increases and government spending cuts takes center stage.

Not much has been done in the past 10 days, according to coverage at Reuters, although more focused negotiations are expected to pick up this week. Without Congressional action, roughly $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases will begin to hit U.S. households in early January.

The Wall Street Journal notes that discussions among lawmakers have been characterized by a "slow pace," and that President Obama might hit the road this week to rustle up public support for raising taxes on upper-income earners. The Journal also cites an unnamed Democratic aide, who said that no real deal making will be made until danger is imminent -- and that moment won't be for another two weeks, according to the aide.

While the pace in Washington is slow, for now, it's becoming clear that Americans are increasingly aware that the "fiscal cliff" is no laughing matter. A new CNN-led poll released this morning finds that two-thirds of Americans see the fiscal cliff as a major economic threat, and suggests that Republicans would face the brunt of public blame were the tax increases and spending cuts to go into full effect in January.

There has been talk of striking a deal that effectively kicks the proverbial can down the road, avoiding some of the more difficult issues embedded in the fiscal cliff, allowing lawmakers time to address their political and idealogical differences.

But an increasing number of GOP-leaning voices, including Marc Thiessen at the American Enterprise Institute, are calling for the Republicans to hold firm and to refuse to make a deal that might compromise the party's tax reform goals.

In other words: the fireworks haven't even begun yet. The next two weeks are sure to be, ahem, interesting -- at the very least.

pjackson@housingwire.com