Forecasting modest growth for the U.S. economy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said Washington leaders must focus on economic growth in order to “create jobs, lift incomes and expand opportunity for all Americans.”

For 2013, said Donohue, in a “State of American Business” address, the Chamber is predicting growth of 1.5% to 1.75% in the first half, accelerating to 2.5% by the end of the year.

Donohue cited several positive economic signs: an improving housing market, a stabilizing European economy and steady energy prices.

But Donohue cited concern with job growth, calling the most recent jobs report “mediocre” and forecasting little improvement in unemployment during 2013.

“Today, 23 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed or have stopped looking for work,” Donohue said. “A record 47 million people are poor enough to be on food stamps. Median family income has dropped to 1995 levels, so we’re going backwards.”

Donohue cited five key issues that the Chamber will be addressing in 2013:

Fiscal Crisis – Donohue said the nation must face up to the “single biggest threat” to our economic future – “our exploding national debt driven by runaway deficit spending, changing demographics and unsustainable entitlements.” He said because of an aging society and increased life expectancy, entitlement programs must be revised not with cuts in absolute terms but through “reasonable adjustments phased in over a number of years.” Donahue also called for comprehensive tax reform, but warned it was not a “substitute for spending restraint.”

Energy – The U.S. has more oil, gas and coal than any other country, said Donohue, and is now the largest natural gas producer in the world. “We are now in a position to export liquefied natural gas and coal, and thus reduce our trade deficit and bring billions of dollars into the United States.” He said the U.S. should open up more land for oil and gas exploration and create a “predictable and fair regulatory environment.” He criticized EPA for a “senseless and ideologically driven battle to ban the production and use of coal.”

Donohue also underlined the positive impact that energy development was having on U.S. manufacturing. He said the Chamber was conducting an “extensive inquiry” into what was needed to expand the nation’s manufacturing base and manufacturing jobs, and promised to advance an “important initiative” on manufacturing in 2013.

Trade, Investment and Tourism – Citing the need for a “bold and aggressive trade agenda,” Donohue said the U.S. should conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) this year and launch negotiations for a trade agreement with the European Union. He also called for renewal of the president’s authority to negotiate trade agreements, known as Trade Promotion Authority. Donahue said trade agreements should include robust intellectual property protections. He also called for more efforts to attract foreign investment, noting that it supports directly or indirectly some 21 million American jobs.

Regulatory Reform – Donohue called the federal regulations coming through the pipeline “staggering.” In particular, he cited concerns about the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, EPA rules on ozone and greenhouse gas emissions, and the healthcare reform law. Donohue said the nation needs to streamline the permitting process to speed up the building of projects and modernize the regulatory system. He said the Chamber would expand the expertise in its law firm, the National Chamber Litigation Center, to deal with regulations.

Immigration Reform – Donohue said the U.S. needs immigrants, even in the face of high unemployment. “Given our changing demographics, we need more workers to sustain our economy, support our retired population and to stay competitive,” he said. He called for comprehensive immigration reform that included secure borders, guest worker programs, a national employee verification system and “a path out of the shadows for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States today – provided that they meet strict conditions.”