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Tom Donohue: Let’s Work Together to Keep America Competitive

Now is the time to forge ahead on common ground to ensure the U.S. doesn't get left behind

“We’re No. 9!” This isn’t something usually said in celebration. After all, who wants to finish a race behind eight others? But that’s just what the United States did in the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom.

This annual report, produced jointly by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, ranks countries across 10 areas, including business freedom, trade freedom and property rights. Hong Kong topped the 2011 rankings, followed by Singapore and Australia.

Yes, America boasts the world’s largest economy — it’s bigger than China, Japan and Germany combined — but cracks are beginning to appear in our foundation. The index gives the United States low marks for government spending and fiscal freedom (tax burden). Just last week, the Congressional Budget Office announced that the budget deficit would reach an astounding $1.48 trillion this year. Conditions on the tax front are little better — America has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world.

The challenges facing the U.S. economy don’t just come from within — other nations are enacting pro-growth policies to attract capital and jobs. That the world is turning toward free markets is a good thing, but it also means we have to work harder to stay on top.

Whether or not you support President Barack Obama’s policies, he correctly outlined our economic challenges in his State of the Union address last week. He highlighted the urgent need to revitalize our economy, create jobs, build a world-class infrastructure system and strengthen America’s competitiveness. While there will be differences on how to achieve these goals, we must find enough common ground to secure another American century.

Saying the right things is a good start, but the real test of this administration, this Congress and the American people will be action.

Will our political leaders make the tough decisions necessary to, in the president’s words, “win the future”? Will the American people stand by elected officials if they take on the difficult work of reforming entitlements or eliminating popular programs? And can all of us summon the can-do spirit that enabled us to overcome even more formidable obstacles in the past?

If we don’t move swiftly to create millions of jobs, unshackle entrepreneurs and small businesses, and restore America’s economic leadership around the globe, we will be left behind. This is the time to tame the regulatory state, double exports and rebuild our infrastructure. This is a time for American greatness.

Our country and our economy will succeed only when the administration, Congress, the business community and individual citizens come together. While we should maintain a vigorous debate, let’s remember that we’re all on the same team.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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