The Commerce Department released figures this week showing GDP grew 3.2 percent between October and December. Even though it was the best economic growth in nearly half a decade the numbers fell short of market expectations.
The strong GDP results failed to move the unemployment rate lower. Department of Labor figures put the unemployment rate at 9.4 percent for last month -- down from nearly 10 percent a year ago.
Orders for durable goods also declined, posting a loss of nearly 3 percent in December. Even with the step backwards, there was an increase of one-half of one percent when transportation items like aircraft are removed from the equation.
The news confirmed for the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee that the economic recovery was continuing despite high unemployment, modest income growth, lower housing wealth and tight credit.
It is against this backdrop President Obama took to the airwaves Tuesday night to deliver his annual State of the Union Address.
Delivering his second state of the union address, President Obama defended his administration against Republican critics and laid out a vision for the remainder of his first term. Obama's speech was heavy on pleas for bipartisanship amidst a House chamber filled with intermingled lawmakers from each side of the political aisle.
The President's speech was peppered with calls to reinvest in American infrastructure including roads, bridges, high-speed rail and technology in rural America.
President Barack Obama: "Within the next five years, we'll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn't just about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It's about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world."
The 2011 State of the Union address revisited a previous Obama Administration goal to increase exports and a renewed appeal for congressional action on foreign trade agreements.
President Barack Obama: "To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans -- and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible."
But one of the President's signature passages appealed to a touchstone in American history when he called for U.S. citizens to reinvest in technology.
President Obama: "This is our generation's Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race."
President Obama: "With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know if -- I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's."
The President's call for a "sputnik moment" caught the attention of alternative fuels proponents and staunch defenders of oil. Senators from the nation's most productive oil states blasted the proposal to slash subsidies. Critics argued the Obama proposal, while publicly popular, would raise gasoline prices to "historic" highs. Renewable fuels advocates said the President was "on target" to level the playing field for domestic energy sources.
Republicans responded to the President with a laundry list of spending and deficit complaints.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin: "The facts are clear: Since taking office, President Obama has signed into law spending increases of nearly 25 percent for domestic government agencies—an 84 percent increase when you include the failed stimulus."
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan slammed President Obama during the official Republican response. The Wisconsin Republican criticized the President's management of the nation's growing deficit and called for a new contract between government and the American people.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin: "Speaking candidly, as one citizen to another: We still have time, but not much time. If we continue down our current path, we know what our future will be. Just take a look at what's happening to Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations in Europe. They didn't act soon enough, and now their governments have been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody. Their day of reckoning has arrived. Ours is around the corner. That is why we must act now."