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The economy's growth level is 'unacceptable'

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In poll after poll this year, the voting public has overwhelmingly identified the economy as its number one concern.

The Pew Research Center, for example, reported in July that 84 percent of registered voters said the issue of the economy is "very important" to them in deciding their vote in the presidential election.

America's business leaders certainly share the public's concerns. The economy has not been living up to its potential for far too long.

Business Roundtable today released its third quarter 2016 CEO Economic Outlook Survey, and the results continue to underwhelm. Over the next six months, CEOs report lower expectations for sales, roughly unchanged plans for hiring, and nearly flat plans for capital spending.

CEOs also project just 2.2 percent GDP growth for 2016, a number consistent with what most economists are estimating for the year.

These growth numbers are unacceptable. The U.S. economy remains stuck in post-recession blues, with GDP growth well below where it should be this many years after the mid-2009 end of the Great Recession.

What's remarkable is that Washington has let this lackluster economy lag along without acting on any meaningful, long-term growth agenda. Sadly, the presidential candidates have also failed to produce cohesive plans to foster the more robust economic growth that helps everyone pay their bills, put their kids through school, and builds strong communities.

Leaders in both parties have stated publicly that America's business tax system needs an overhaul. Last updated 30 years ago in 1986, the U.S. tax system has fallen far behind other developed countries both in terms of tax rates and the way foreign earnings are taxed. These other countries have changed their tax systems, seeking to attract more investment and compete effectively in the global market.

Instead of fixing the problem, we have stood still. Now the threat is that we actually move backward. The U.S. Treasury Department is proposing to handcuff U.S.-based companies with new tax rules that would limit their ability to lend or transfer funds between wholly owned subsidiaries.

Congress and administration have the power – and the obligation – to bring U.S. tax law into the 21st century, benefiting U.S. companies, workers and the taxpaying public. Yet, for too long, impasse and inaction have been the rule.

Likewise, Congress and the Administration have the power to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, expanding markets for U.S. exporters while strengthening the strategic influence of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. The agreement is much more than a trade deal. It is a framework for managing global economic and security relationships in the fastest-growing part of the world.

For more than a decade, polling conducted by Pew Research Center has shown that a strong majority of Americans support expanding international trade. The numbers explain why: International trade and investment supports jobs and economic growth in every state, and now supports an estimated 41 million American jobs – jobs that pay well above the national average. U.S. trade-related employment grew three and a half times faster than total U.S. employment between 2004 and 2014.

Yet, the presidential candidates of the two major political parties both knock the expansion of trade and have disavowed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Turning the nation's back on trade is turning its back on opportunity – and the economic growth this country so desperately needs.

For our part, business leaders in America also recognize that as the economy changes, we must help the workforce adapt. We have an obligation and commitment to help train current and future workers for the new opportunities that will emerge – if the nation focuses on growth.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will meet for their first presidential debate on Monday, September 26, at Hofstra University in New York. The format calls for debating six "major topics" facing the country.

Let's start by making economic growth topic number one. That United States can lead a global recovery if the candidates and our elected leaders make growth THE focus of the 2016 elections.

Commentary by John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of leading U.S. companies that produce $7 trillion in annual revenues and employ more than 16 million people. A former three-term governor of Michigan, Engler assumed leadership of Business Roundtable in January 2011 after serving six years as president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.

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