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What is the State of American Business?

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In prior years, the U.S. Chamber has been able to describe the state of the American economy - and thus the state of American business -- in a single word or phrase.

Not this year. There are both positive and negative signs to point to.

On the plus side, the economy is still growing, still creating jobs, and it has been providing decent pay increases for workers.

Yet it's also true that growth has slowed, and that some sectors such as housing are hurting badly.

The impact of the subprime mortgage crisis and high oil prices are being felt throughout the economy. Americans are concerned. And when they're concerned, we're concerned.

As we work through a period of economic weakness, it is critical that policymakers make decisions that spur growth and make our economy stronger and more competitive.

To do this we must take decisive action on many fronts.

We have a public education system with a dismal drop-out rate of 30 percent. In the African-American and Hispanic communities, it's more than 50 percent. That is unacceptable.

We have 77 million baby boomers on the verge of retirement, severe shortages of scientists, engineers and technology workers, and crops rotting in the fields - because there's no one available to harvest them. Yet Congress has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. That is unacceptable.

We have a physical infrastructure that is rapidly running out of capacity to efficiently move people, freight, fuel, power, and information.

The costs of this negligence can be measured not only in lost productivity and jobs, but in the loss of innocent lives. That is unacceptable.

We have an approach to energy that is a cross between stupidity and hypocrisy. Stupidity - because we are dangerously dependent on foreign sources - and restrictive policies have driven prices through the roof for families and businesses.

Hypocrisy - because our leaders condemn these prices and then continue to impose restrictions that discourage the production of clean, diverse domestic energy. And that is unacceptable.

We have a legal system that can be described in one word - broken. We spend over a quarter of a trillion dollars a year on endless frivolous lawsuits. That is unacceptable.

We have crucial capital markets that drive growth and underpin the life savings of millions of Americans. Yet they are being crippled by excessive taxation, regulation and litigation. That is unacceptable.

Ninety-five percent of our customers live outside the United States. Yet today we are being told that there should be no more trade agreements to open markets for American workers and businesses. It doesn't make any sense--and it's unacceptable.

And while some of our European competitors are learning from the mistakes of their past, we seem intent on repeating our own mistakes -and even some of theirs!

They are replacing rigid workplace rules with more freedom and flexibility. They are reducing tax rates to be more competitive and innovative.

Yet in our country, many in Congress are going right along with an agenda that would impose EU-style handicaps on our workers and businesses.

We have seen tax hikes proposed in Congress, in the states, and on the presidential campaign trail that add up to trillions of dollars.

If you are looking for a perfect recipe for that recession everyone is talking about, that's it -right there!

Change is now the big buzz word and, of course, we need it in many areas. The change America needs must rekindle growth and reaffirm our leadership in the global economy. We can't solve our problems or pay for solutions without a strong and competitive economy.

To succeed, we need honest, practical solutions that build on the strengths of a free society and a free enterprise economy.

Above all, we must not stifle the risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and spirit of enterprise that drives America's greatness. Government can do many constructive things. But counting on Washington to provide complete financial security -- at the expense of freedom and opportunity -- is a bad bargain. In the end, Americans would find themselves neither prosperous nor secure.

Now, more than ever, when it comes to American jobs and American products, we must be strong and aggressive. Now, more than ever, we need to enact common sense policies that will enable American workers and businesses to compete and win on a global scale.

Contrary to some of the rhetoric we hear on the campaign trail, America's entrepreneurs and businesses are not the enemy. We are all in this together, and we all need to work together!

The State of American Business can be found at www.uschamber.com