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Putting pressure on Congress to approve a payroll tax holiday by year's end, the White House unveiled a countdown clock on Monday ticking off the seconds to Dec. 31, but another deadline looms even larger: Holiday recess.

The digital clock Jay Carney unveiled following President Obama's White House briefing indicated 26 days, 9 hours and some minutes remain until the  payroll tax break expires, which will cost the average American family almost $1,000 in 2012 and cause tax increases for about 160 million people. But the House and Senate is set to adjourn by December 16 for the holiday recess. As National Journal's Major Garret writes, "That leaves no more than nine legislative days in the House and eight in the Senate (because the Senate must set aside one day for debate on a sure-to-fail balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution)."

That means Congress has a deadline to reach an agreement by either this week or next.

Is it possible?

According to The Washington Post, yes. The paper reports that both sides agree that a negotiated compromise between the two parties will ultimately be needed to pass a bill. Because Republicans unofficially dismissed the Senate Democrats' latest offer Monday afternoon, the paper expects a major compromise to come "later this week or next week."

Still, it's possible that ideological intransigence will prove more powerful than even the greatest of incentives: the threat of a delayed Christmas break. President Obama floated the unpopular idea last week. "I expect that it’s going to get done before Congress leaves, he said. "Otherwise, Congress may not be leaving, and we can all spend Christmas here together." 

It almost happened last year over the decision to extend the Bush tax cuts, which were set to expire Dec. 31 2010, but Congress rallied and passed the $858 billion bill on Dec. 17, leaving the lawmakers plenty of time to fly home to their families.

This time around, the sticking point is a surtax on millionaires to cover the cost of the payroll tax. The latest offer by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scaled down the surtax on people making over $1 million from 3.25 percent to 1.9 percent and set it to expire in 10 years. Still, the offer was dismissed by Republicans though not officially rejected. The two sides will have to find some sort of middle ground to get something they both want: a full vacation.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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