World Economic Forum mood shifting, eyes fixed on U.S.

(CBS News) In the hallways and meeting rooms of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week -- where the top global bankers, business leaders and politicians come every year to swap intelligence -- there's a sense the global economy has finally turned a corner.

Just 12 months ago, it looked like financial collapse in Europe could lead to a global recession. What a difference a year makes.

At Davos, new year brings renewed optimism

Ask Ken Frazier, chief executive officer of pharmaceutical giant Merck. He said, "The U.S. economy is poised to take off. I think it's been through some tough times. I think it's the strongest economy in the world."

The International Monetary Fund forecasts the global economy will grow 3.5 percent this year -- a healthy number. And if there's debate about how soon things will get better, Muhtar Kent, chief executive officer of Coca Cola, is confident they're not going to get worse. Asked if the fear is largely gone, Kent said, "I don't think it's right to say it's gone. Think of it as walking on ice that isn't too secure. But, I think, everyone expects the ice to hold."

What could crack that ice is if Congress and the White House can't agree on the deficit or the debt ceiling. "Will Washington Work" is the theme of a seminar in Davos Friday.

House Majority Whip Eric Cantor, who is in Davos, will have to answer. Cantor, asked why can't U.S. get its act together, said, "I think the thing that differentiates the U.S. from so many countries in the E.U., we know how to fix our problems. And we're just at loggerheads as to which way to go."

But the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, said the U.S. has to confront this. She said if decisions are postponed again, "it will be pushing the can down the road yet again, which was a reproach that we made against the Europeans, and I don't think the U.S. should fall in that trap."

With the U.S. economy showing renewed strength, there's a feeling in Davos that the U.S. could help pull up the rest of the world if Washington could just get out of the way.

For Anthony Mason's full report, watch the video in the player above.