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The top lobbyist in Washington for American business warned in unusually stark terms on Wednesday that younger Americans will face diminished economic prospects in coming years unless the United States reins in spending on the elderly and improves its education system.
"I worry that for the first time in history, we're in a situation where America is taking from the young in order to support the old," Thomas Donohue, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a speech that laid out the powerful business group's agenda.
Donohue's remarks reflect the bitter residue of a years-long budget battle that has largely failed to tackle the nation's long-term fiscal problems, as well as a new focus on inequality in Washington.
As in other areas, the business group is likely to clash with the Obama administration on some of its efforts to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, even as it supports other approaches. The Chamber will back the administration's push to impose common academic standards on a primary education system that is largely administered at the state and local level, Donohue said.
"If our nation doesn't get damn serious about the millions of young people who drop out of school, or who graduate unable to master the most basic skills and work habits, nothing else we do or try is going to work," he said.
The business group does not back Obama's effort to boost the minimum wage, Donohue said, and will oppose other efforts that would impose more regulations on business or slow economic growth.
The Chamber will also try to build public support for reining in the expensive, but popular, health and pension programs for the elderly that are projected to drive the U.S. public debt in coming decades, Donohue said, though he acknowledged that effort is unlikely to bear fruit soon.
"Entitlement reform is not going to get done in a serious way for a couple of years yet. We have to work up to this," he said.
With a lobbying budget that places it among the top interest groups in Washington, the U.S. Chamber has been a high-profile antagonist of an administration that it sees as hostile to business. The group led the push against Obama's signature healthcare law and has opposed efforts to curb greenhouse gases and tighten financial regulations.
But over the past year, the Chamber and the White House have pursued common goals as both have sought