According to the Commerce Department, orders to U.S. factories for durable goods -- those big ticket items expected to last 3 years or longer -- rose by 0.2 percent last month. Stripping out the more volatile transportation sector, orders jumped a full 2 percent, or double the gain analysts were expecting.
Separately, the government reported new claims for unemployment fell to 452,000 last week... the labor market's best performance since September of 2008.
The developments, and end of the year profit taking, propelled the Dow to more than 10,500, while the S&P 500 settled above 1125 -- both annual highs.
The gains on Wall Street will not go unnoticed by the Obama administration, but the big gift under the tree for the President this year was delivered on Christmas Eve, when the Senate passed a measure paving the way for health care reform.
The bill, long-hailed by Democrats as a crucial building block of health care reforms, includes thousands of rules, mandates, and new layers of government bureaucracy. Many details have yet to be determined but concessions given to a handful of Democratic Senators demonstrate the legislative power bestowed to some rural lawmakers.
Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, succeeded in exempting his home state from ever paying for any future Medicaid expansion. Under the bill's current form, taxpayers from the remaining 49 states will pick up Nebraska's Medicaid tab – estimated at nearly $100 million in the next 10 years.
Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, included a provision to help asbestos-related health issues in the small, rural town of Libby, Montana.
Montana will also benefit from new provisions aimed at propping-up rural health care centers. Doctors and hospitals in Big Sky Country along with North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming will receive HIGHER payments than health providers in other states. The move to boost so-called "Frontier States," is designed to encourage doctors to take jobs in rural and underserved areas.
While Democrats are largely unified on health care legislation, Republicans are universally opposed.
Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota: "They may have 60 votes today, but it's a long ways from the finish line. And the American people, I think, are going to have the opportunity to weigh in when every one of our senators goes home over the holidays and hears directly from them."
President Barack Obama originally hoped to trumpet health care legislation at his January State of the Union address. But a potentially contentious conference committee meeting between the U.S. House and Senate could push final passage of health care reform into February 2010.