Reducing the deficit by increasing spending?

Liberal Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has been named by her party’s leadership — that is to say, by Majority Leader Harry Reid — to the new congressional super committee, created under the last-minute July 31 debt-ceiling deal and assigned to come up $1 trillion in spending cuts in an attempt to restore Uncle Sam’s fiscal reputation and credit rating.

Her first act since being appointed? To call for an increase in federal spending, of course.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Wednesday, Sen. Murray and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., argue the U.S. must close “the widening skills gap in America.” Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, the senators note that “of the 50 million new jobs the BLS projects to be created by 2018, 30 million will require recognized postsecondary credentials.”

Their solution? Pour more money into the Workforce Investment Act — yet another federal “jobs training” program.

But the senators were just talking about jobs that will require advanced college degrees or the equivalent. Workforce Investment Act funds attempt to teach unemployed poor and minority people basic workplace skills — they’re not known for turning out Ph.D.s in science or engineering.

In pushing to cut funding this year for programs financed under the Workforce Investment Act, House Republicans questioned whether programs designed to train unemployed workers really help them find work. In the end, Congress cut spending for WIA by 10 percent, or $307 million of its nearly $4 billion budget.

The problem, most agree, is that such training stresses general skills — how to write a resume, how to dress for work, how to show up on time — without focusing on specialized fields in demand.

The same week when Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced he will invite all 50 states to apply for testing waivers under “No Child Left Behind” — sparing them the ignominy of having parents and taxpayers learn just how badly their young charges are doing — hardly seems an auspicious time to call for pouring more money into another unaccountable “training” bureaucracy.

If the senators want to create jobs, try repealing a few thousand federal workplace regulations that drive up employer costs (starting with the new requirement that mom-and-pop restaurants list calorie counts for every menu item). Then, how about offering employers a holiday from the uncompensated labor of having to withhold, match or remit taxes from their employees’ paychecks?

For hundreds of years, America had just such a hands-off federal government, under which our economy grew to be the envy of the world.

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