WASHINGTON -- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) slammed a Heritage Foundation economist in an open Senate hearing Tuesday, suggesting the conservative number cruncher had offered cooked data on the impacts of austerity budgets.
But Heritage economist Salim Furth argued that raising taxes as part of the austerity programs in Europe is what had hurt the continental economy, and that few of the fiscally troubled nations had actually cut spending.
"Since 2007, few governments have pursued anything like a comprehensive austerity agenda," Furth told the Senate Budget Committee, citing data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. "Most have spent more, and some have taxed more. Spending cuts, on the other hand, have been rare, outside of Europe's crisis countries."
That statement did not play well with Whitehouse, who took issue with Furth's numbers and cited his own statistics from the OECD that portrayed budget cuts far exceeding tax hikes.
"I am concerned your testimony to the committee has been meretricious," Whitehouse said, demanding that Furth explain himself in writing.
Whitehouse pointed to a number of countries that had implemented more cuts than tax increases, based on OECD data. Among them were Slovenia, which did not raise taxes, and the United Kingdom, which Whitehouse said relied on a mix of 69 percent spending cuts and 31 percent tax hikes in its austerity program.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) offered Furth a chance to respond verbally to the committee, but he declined, saying the "tenor here isn't conducive" to further productive discussion.
Furth's written testimony often relies not on raw numbers, but on comparisons of countries' gross domestic products, which is a common method of evaluating taxes, spending and debt. His analysis would be correct on spending, although it does not seem to account for GDPs that shrank because of recession or spending that increased because of it, such as unemployment benefits. It also doesn't acknowledge steep cuts in other parts of countries' budgets to make up for recession spending.
On taxes, the majority of the OECD countries have been collecting less, compared to their GDPs.
Many European leaders have recently been reconsidering austerity measures.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.