It was a quiet week on the economic front as much of the nation focused its attention on presidential politics. Even so, there were signs of a continued recovery, starting with a rebound in consumer confidence. Forty-four percent of Americans now say the economy is in good shape ... 20 points more than at this time last year.
In addition, the index of leading indicators rose for the ninth straight month in December ... and the number of people filing claims for jobless benefits dropped for a second consecutive week.
Against that backdrop, Congress returned this week to Washington, where the first order of business was a presidential speech before a house divided.
President Bush delivered his State of the Union address this week to an audience in the House chamber that provided a visual reminder of just how polarized Congress is these days. In what was likely a preview of coming attractions on Capitol Hill this session, Republicans cheered the President's economic policies while Democrats sat in silence.
President Bush: "Congress has some unfinished business on the issue of taxes ... Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase. What Congress has given, Congress should not take away. For the sake of job growth the tax cuts you passed should be made permanent."
Divisiveness was apparent in the Senate chamber this week too as Democrats struggled to delay voting on a massive spending bill. Within 48 hours of the President's speech however, the Senate sent him a $373 billion dollar spending bill for the current fiscal year -- which actually began last October.
The bill, which was approved by a margin of 65 to 26, finances key domestic programs -- including agriculture.
It also would postpone for two years Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL, for meat and other foods. In the wake of last month's discovery of mad cow disease in the U.S., many Democrats hoped they had momentum to get COOL implemented this year. But when the White House and GOP leaders refused to compromise, and with other domestic programs imbedded in the comprehensive spending bill, the Democrats acquiesced in the end.