In a Congress riven by partisan conflict on deficits and guns, a circle of eight senators from both parties meeting several times a week might be on the cusp of a major legislative breakthrough.
The so-called Gang of Eight - four Democrats and four Republicans - is completing a plan for the biggest overhaul of immigration laws since 1986. The group is not only holding together after four months of intense discussions - an accomplishment in itself in Washington's brutally partisan atmosphere - it is down to the last sticking points, according to the senators and aides.
The centerpiece, they say, will be a 10- to 15-year path to U.S. citizenship - perhaps under a different formulation - for 11 million illegal immigrants. The issue has gained new urgency for both parties after strong Hispanic support for President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats in last year's election.
In an effort to improve the plan's chances with Republicans, the path to citizenship may wind up being called a road to a green card - the permit issued by the government that allows foreigners to work in the United States and ultimately apply for citizenship.
If so, that would reflect the influence of Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the group's members.
"There is no such thing as a path toward citizenship," Rubio said in an interview. "There is a path toward a green card."
"We want to be generous and we want to be fair, but we also have to be fair to the people trying to do it legally," Rubio said. "To become a citizen, you first have to get a green card. I made that clear" to the others, Rubio said.
Senate aides said they were not worried about what one called "semantics. ... We all agree you need to get a green card before getting citizenship. He is just reflecting concerns in his own party."
The goal is a Senate bill sometime next month, with a Senate vote by June or July. Considering the battles in line ahead of immigration - on deficit reduction and gun violence - that schedule could be optimistic.
There are also plenty of challenges ahead.
The group envisions a commission that would help control the future flow of low-skilled guest workers into the United States in a way that satisfies businesses' need for employees as well as unions' desires to protect their members and U.S. wages.
But satisfying both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO labor organization on how that would work has become a problem.
"It is a tightrope to bring in the workers that are necessary but not at the expense of American workers," Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, one of the eight, said in an interview. "We need to find a reasonable way to thread the needle."