Associated Press
Frank Wallace displays his frustration with the economy during a rally of the unemployed.

WASHINGTON — For many working Americans, Labor Day is a welcome day of rest. But for the 20 million who are unemployed, underemployed, or who have given up looking for work, it's just another reminder of the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression.

More than ever, dispirited workers and discouraged businesses need to hear concrete ideas for putting our economy back on track and our nation back to work.

Over the past year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has advanced an ambitious, practical and common-sense American Jobs and Growth Agenda to spur our economy and create millions of jobs — without raising taxes or adding to the deficit.

America should make strong investments in natural resources and infrastructure. Here's how:

We are on the cusp of an energy revolution that could employ millions of Americans, reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign sources, generate billions in government revenues, and reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing.

To realize that potential, let's remove barriers to our vast domestic resources and strengthen our supply through key energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone XL pipeline.

At the same time, we must modernize our overall infrastructure system and knock down roadblocks to $250 billion in private capital.

Congressional passage of a multiyear highway bill — after years of short-term extensions — has finally given states, communities and private partners some certainty to begin launching projects. Now the hard work of rebuilding must begin.

America should expand global commerce through trade, investment and tourism. Ninety-five percent of the world's customers live outside the United States. We'll lose access to lucrative global markets — and sales and jobs — without a bold, forward-looking trade agenda.

To create jobs and keep America's economy humming, it is imperative that we advance our competitive edge. We can't allow our ideas, innovations and jobs to be stolen by foreign rogue websites. Nor can we allow our workforce to fall behind. A competitive workforce requires major improvements to our public K-12 education system and high-skilled visa reform.

If businesses are to thrive and hire, we've got to modernize a regulatory system that is currently suffocating business expansion and stifling job creation. Likewise, we've got to rid our legal system of lawsuit abuse that undermines job creation. Finally, our antiquated tax code must be reformed to lower rates for individuals and corporations while broadening the overall tax base.

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Congress should act on all these meaningful reforms to give our economy the boost it needs. But in the short term, lawmakers' most urgent task is to prevent us from going over the fiscal cliff.

If Congress allows the tax provisions of 2001 and 2003 to expire and the blunt cuts of sequestration to take effect, things could get a lot worse. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently echoed the warnings of leading economists that a new American recession could be imminent.

Americans deserve a stronger economy, and free enterprise can deliver it if Congress and the president act to prevent the immediate crisis and begin the work of securing our future.

R. Bruce Josten is executive vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.