Obama hails uptick in economic growth, calls for more reform

President Barack Obama on Saturday hailed recent growth in the U.S. economy as a "sign of progress," stressing new data proved a long-standing trend of economic decline had recently "reversed itself."

While the president acknowledged in his weekly radio address that "many people were still struggling," he described Friday's announcement of 5.7 percent growth last quarter as an "affirmation of the difficult decisions we made last year to pull our financial system back from the brink and get out economy moving again."

But Obama also took care to note lawmakers still had much to do to help Americans return to work, and to enlarge paychecks for those already employed. He stressed job creation would be his "No. 1 focus in 2010" -- a line that has so far signaled to many the White House is slowly pivoting from healthcare reform to economic recovery.

"For the past six months, our economy has been growing again. And last quarter, it grew more quickly than at any time in the past six years," Obama said.

"But when so many people are still struggling – when one in 10 Americans still can’t find work, and millions more are working harder and longer for less – our mission isn’t just to grow the economy. It’s to grow jobs for folks who want them, and ensure wages are rising for those who have them," the president added.

"It’s not just about improvements we see in quarterly statistics, but ones people feel in their daily lives – a bigger paycheck; more security; the ability to give your kids a decent shot in life and still have enough to retire one day yourself," Obama continued.

Friday's announcement that gross domestic product increased in the last few months of 2009 spells excellent news for Democrats, whose electoral prospects in 2010 seem to depend almost wholly on the state of the economy.

While a number of Republicans have dismissed the 5.7 percent statistic number as meaningless, seeing as unemployment still remains at about 10 percent, the White House has touted the new number as a sign the economy is nonetheless improving.

Consequently, that data should prove to be excellent ammunition for both the Obama administration and congressional Democrats as they begin their new jobs offensive. Just this week, the White House pitched a jobs package that included tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed workers, or for those that raise wages for workers they already employ. Senate Democrats will soon follow suit with a "jobs agenda" of their own, the party's leaders said this week, though they provided only few specifics as to what that package might include.

Obama also used Saturday's radio address to draw attention to two other fiscal reforms he has pitched this week: a cap on discretionary spending and a debt-reduction commission. The president first outlined both proposals during his State of the Union address on Wednesday night.

The spending freeze in particular, which would touch about one-sixth of the federal budget, could save the White House about $250 billion over the next three years, officials said last week. However, most Republicans oppose the freeze, charging it would not roll back any of the spending increases Democrats imposed this year.

But the debt-commission Obama again offered this weekend could prove more contentious. While the Senate tried to advance a version of that panel on Thursday that could require Congress to vote on its budget-fixing recommendations, sufficient support failed to materialize, and the proposal subsequently died.

Obama has thus promised an executive order that would create a version of the proposed commission that could not require Congress to take a vote, as per the Constitution. But Republicans now maintain it would be too weak to have any effect on the debt -- a line the president seemed to reject by blaming the GOP for opposing the original plan.

"This past week, 53 Democrats and Republicans voted for this commission in the Senate.  But it failed when seven Republicans who had co-sponsored this idea in the first place suddenly decided to vote against it," Obama said, stressing the panel would help lawmakers finally make the "painful choices" required to tame the country's burgeoning, $1.3 trillion deficit.

Ultimately, Obama stressed that debate symbolized the unprecedented politicization that has so far stalled reform on a number of proposals that Democrats have offered this year. He added the only way the economy, in particular, could continue to grow -- and the deficit could begin to shrink -- is if lawmakers stopped focusing on winning the next election and instead devoted their attention to "what's best for the next generation."

"I’m ready and eager to work with anyone who’s serious about solving the real problems facing our people and our country. I welcome anyone who comes to the table in good faith to help get our economy moving again and fulfill this country’s promise," Obama said.

"That’s why we were elected in the first place. That’s what the American people expect and deserve. And that’s what we must deliver," the president added.