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Survey finds small businesses not ready to hire

Cite sales, regulations, uncertainty

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A majority of U.S. small businesses fear the economy is on the "wrong track" and do not plan to increase hiring in the coming year, according to a new survey from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Monday.

"In other recoveries, growth came roaring back and so did jobs," U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue told business leaders at a jobs summit the Washington-based group held on Monday. "But that's not happening this time."

The study found that 64 percent of small businesses are afraid to make new hires in the near future, although only 12 percent plan to cut jobs.

The Chamber study follows last week's dismal jobs report from the Labor Department that found hiring has stalled for the second straight month and the unemployment rate has ticked up to 9.2 percent.

The biggest obstacles to job growth are uncertainty about the economy, uncertainty about the policies and regulations being pushed in Washington, and a lack of sales, according to the survey.

"The voices of these Main Street businesses are telling us plain and simple: To start hiring, we need faster economic growth and a change of course in Washington," Mr. Donohue said.

But General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt, recently named chairman of President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, told the business summit that government wasn't entirely to blame.

"The people who are part of the business sector, the people in this room, have got to stop complaining about government and get some action under way," Mr. Immelt told the group. "There's no excuse today for lack of leadership. The truth is we all need to be part of the solution."

Mr. Donohue said Congress could boost the jobs environment immediately by passing three pending trade deals with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. Lawmakers also need to raise the debt ceiling, before the nation defaults on its loans, among other things, he said.

Approving the three trade deals quickly would save 380,000 American jobs and create thousands more. "Immediate jobs are at stake," Mr. Donohue warned.

But the pacts, which were originally negotiated by the Bush administration, have long been delayed as Republicans and Democrats fight over the rules to implement the agreements.

Republicans want all three agreements approved immediately, but Democrats have raised questions about Colombia's record on labor unions. Mr. Obama has yet to formally submit the treaties to Congress as negotiations continue.

Furthermore, the White House wants to attach funding for an aid program for workers hurt by increased trade to the trade deal, a move top Republicans have rejected.

Chamber officials said they fear the politics of the issue are unnecessarily slowing down the trade deals.

Raising the federal debt ceiling to allow more government borrowing is another "tough choice" that is necessary to get the economy back on track, Mr. Donohue said.

"It's an unfortunate reality but it must be done," he said. "Failure to do so would have grave consequences for Main Street businesses and families."

Mr. Donohue also floated a hike in the federal gas tax, which hasn't increased in 18 years. He said it could be used to improve the nation's transportation infrastructure, which would help with the economy and job growth.

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