HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama will cut short his traditional Christmas holiday in Hawaii, planning to leave for Washington on Wednesday evening as he and lawmakers consider how to prevent the economy from going over the so-called fiscal cliff.

Obama was expected to arrive in Washington early Thursday, the White House said Tuesday night. First lady Michelle Obama and the couple's two daughters will remain in Hawaii.

In the past, the president's end-of-the-year holiday in his native state had stretched into the new year. The first family had left Washington last Friday night.

Congress was expected to return to Washington on Thursday. Before he departed for Hawaii, Obama told reporters he expected to be back in the capital the following week.

Automatic budget cuts and tax increases are set to begin in January, which many economists say could send the country back into recession. So far, the president and congressional Republicans have been unable to reach agreement on any alternatives.

Lawmakers have expressed little but pessimism for the prospect of an agreement coming before Jan. 1. On Sunday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she expects any action in the waning days of the year to be "a patch because in four days we can't solve everything."

The Obamas were spending the holiday at a rented home near Honolulu. On Christmas Day, the president and first lady visited with members of the military to express thanks for their service.

"One of my favorite things is always coming to base on Christmas Day just to meet you and say thank you," the president said at Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Anderson Hall. He said that being commander in chief was his greatest honor as president.

Obama took photos with individual service members and their families.

On Christmas Eve, Obama called members of the military to thank them for serving the nation, then joined his family for dinner, the White House said. The Obamas opened gifts Christmas morning, ate breakfast and sang carols.

Friends were joining the Obamas for Christmas dinner Tuesday night, the White House said.