WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and Congress stand at a junction.
The road the country has been on for the past five years is now beginning to come to an end. The Federal Reserve, which pumped $3 trillion into the economy to keep the Great Recession from worsening, is withdrawing its financial lifeline amid signs of fresh economic growth. The nation's gross domestic product is inching up, and annual federal budget deficits are heading down.
How Washington policymakers respond to the improvements in the economy may even sow the seeds for more cooperation in Washington.
But don't count on it.
Finger-pointing still abounds between the Democrats who control the White House and the Senate and the Republicans who control the House of Representatives ahead of midterm elections later this year that will determine control of Congress for the remainder of Obama's presidency.
"The president's policies are not working," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declared.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., countered: "We cannot have a country that's paralyzed because of a group of people — the group of people who are the tea party-driven Republicans in Congress."
"There are no winners here," suggested Obama, with just under three years to go to complete his economic legacy. "The American people are completely fed up with Washington."
An important indicator of the state of the economy came Friday, when the Labor Department reported that the U.S. jobless rate in January fell to a five-year low of 6.6 percent. But employers added just 113,000 jobs, a modest gain. The numbers were a slight improvement from the 6.7 percent rate of the month before and a lot lower than the 10 percent reached briefly in 2009. But that is still significantly higher than the 5 percent or lower unemployment rate that usually signifies a healthy economy.