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A holly, un-jolly congressional Christmas?

WASHINGTON -- Pick your metaphor: coal-stuffed stocking, Mr. Grinch, nice-and-naughty list. Lawmakers are once again threatening to stay in session as long as it takes during the holiday season.

In a message to House members today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., warned members that they would not be going home for the year until the fiscal cliff has been addressed.

Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images

Capitol Hill workmen roll up the carpet used by VIP's after the Capitol Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on December 4, 2012 on the West Front Lawn of the US Capitol in Washington.

"Members are further reminded that the House will not adjourn the 112th Congress until a credible solution to the fiscal cliff has been found," Cantor said.

The warning comes as the House leaves town today after the Republican leadership canceled Thursday's session, leaving only three currently-scheduled days left on the 2012 legislative calendar to avert the fiscal cliff. GOP leaders themselves will remain camped out in D.C. in case there is new movement on the negotiations, and rank-and-file members have been instructed to expect more added legislative days later in month.

With the fiscal cliff earning everything from doomsday predictions to despairing acceptance from commentators, it's no surprise that Hill leaders are invoking the ghosts of Christmastime sessions past to urge movement in the negotiations. Senate veterans have the memory fresh in their minds after an unusual 2009 Christmas Eve Senate vote on the Obama-backed health care bill.

As time ticks down for President Barack Obama and House Republicans to make a deal on the fiscal cliff before the end of the year, the pressure is stepping up. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

According to the Senate Historical Office, holiday season sessions were not unusual before widespread train and air transportation made it easy for members to travel to their home states a few weeks after coming to Washington on the first Monday in December. But, while numerous congresses have come as close as the 23rd, leaders' frequent foreshadowing of Yuletides in the halls of Congress have generally only served to motivate their members to finish their business soon enough to get home before the sun goes down on Festivus night.

While lame-duck sessions historically don't hold many votes, and are not in D.C. for many days, the optics of today's departure won't burnish the image of a Congress with historically low approval ratings facing some of the toughest economic decisions in history. Since returning to DC after the November elections, the House has had only 16 roll call votes, and has been in session for 11 days.

In the last lame duck session in 2010, Congress was around for 19 days, taking 99 votes.