"And you're standing with someone else and you say, cut the rope at the top. And he says, well, cut the rope at the bottom, and you're standing there arguing.

"Meanwhile, the man is struggling on this cliff. 'Get me down!'

"Wouldn't the smart thing to do, wouldn't it be smart to cut the rope in the middle and save the guy. You could argue later, should I have cut the rope at the top or the bottom? No, cut it in the middle, save the man."

Boxer admitted that this is a "pretty simplistic example of where we are," but like other senators, argued that it should not be that hard to find ways to compromise during a time of emergency.

"There is a word called compromise, and it doesn't mean you compromise your principles, but it means that you can compromise," she said.

Boxer spoke as congressional leaders continued their efforts to find some way around the fiscal cliff, although there were few if any signs of progress by Sunday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidVirginia was a wave election, but without real change, the tide will turn again Top Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor MORE (D-Nev.) spoke briefly at around 1 p.m., but said nothing about the talks.

Both parties are expected to hold meetings in the afternoon on the progress of the talks so far.