Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor released a dismal update on the state of our nation’s economy. Not only did the national unemployment rate rise to 9.1 percent, but the number of Americans looking for work increased to 14 million.

The current economic policies are not working. In fact, they are working against us – creating an environment of uncertainty and hampering job growth in America. As I tour businesses in Kansas, business owners will say to me, “What next? What harmful thing is Washington, DC, going to do next that puts me out of business?”

When the message coming from Washington is more taxes, more regulation and more intrusion into the free market, it’s no wonder businesses are not hiring new workers. Instead of creating barriers to job growth, Congress and the Administration must create an environment where businesses can grow and start hiring again – and that starts by pursuing a number of pro-growth policies.

First, Congress must reign in government regulations. Rather than hiring new employees, businesses are spending money on complying with unreasonable regulations and mandates – from the EPA’s efforts to regulate carbon, to the costly mandates imposed by the new health care law. According to the Small Business Administration, our nation’s smallest businesses, those with less than 20 employees, spend 36 percent more per employee than larger firms to comply with federal regulations – that’s roughly $10,585 per employee to comply with all federal regulations.

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy; they employ half of private sector workers, and have generated 65 percent of new jobs over the last two decades. It makes absolutely no sense to drive up their operating costs and leave them with fewer opportunities to hire new workers.

Second, Congress must replace our convoluted and burdensome tax code with one that is fair, simple and certain. One- or two-year extensions of tax cuts only add to the environment of uncertainty – so companies remain reluctant to hire new workers or expand. When employers know what to expect, they can plan for future expenses and can invest in their companies, grow, and hire new workers.

Third, Congress must open foreign markets for American manufactured goods and agricultural products. Across our country, thousands of Americans depend upon exports for jobs, including more than one-quarter of all manufacturing workers in Kansas. In the absence of trade agreements we risk losing more of our market share to our competitors. Our pending agreement with Korea alone is worth $11 billion and would create an estimated 70,000 new jobs. It is past time for the President to send implementing language to Congress for these trade agreements, so we can start exporting more of our manufactured goods – and not our jobs.

Fourth, Congress must develop a comprehensive energy policy. Rising gas prices and recent events in the Middle East demonstrate the importance of having access to a reliable energy supply. Higher energy prices are hampering our economic recovery. No single form of energy can provide the answer – so we must develop traditional sources of energy, as well as renewable energy sources. When employers have access to reliable energy supplies, they can spend their resources on hiring new workers rather than on escalating energy costs.

Finally, Congress must reduce government spending. Our failure to balance the budget will result in increased inflation, higher interest rates, fewer jobs and a lower standard of living for every American. It is time to work together and pass a responsible budget to reduce our deficit this year, next year and far into the future. That plan should include significant spending reductions, a balanced budget amendment to restrict Washington’s ability to borrow money, and should address our long-term unfunded liabilities.

As John Adams once famously quipped: “facts are stubborn things.” And the facts tell us that Washington must change direction if we are to grow our economy and put Americans back to work. The failed economy we are experiencing and the financial collapse around the corner is the most expected economic crisis in our lifetime. We know what is going to happen if we don’t act – and it would be immoral to kick the can down the road one more time because the politics of this issue are too difficult.

Americans deserve leadership in our Nation’s Capital to confront these challenges and not to push them off to the next generation of Americans. When we confront these issues in a responsible way, businesses will succeed, employees will be hired, and Americans will again be able to pursue the American dream.