US would be Europe if we had listened to GOP: Dem

The United States would be looking just like Europe today had the country followed Republican calls for austerity in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Rep. Chris Van Hollen from Maryland told CNBC on Friday.

The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee was responding to comments from CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow, who said warnings from the White House and the Congressional Budget Office of dire results to the U.S. economy after spending cuts in 2011 and the 2013 sequester were never borne out.

"The CBO would argue that you would have done even better in job growth than you did, and just look at the European economies that took the austerity approach, Van Hollen said in a "Squawk Box" interview. That's what Republicans were recommending to us. Look at what happened to them. Look at where we are."

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Van Hollen also disagreed with Kudlow's position that the economy is doing better because the government is spending less. Kudlow noted that the fall in government spending as a percentage of GDP dovetailed with rising employment and economic growth.

The congressman said the CBO would come to the opposite conclusion: Had the United States spent less after the crisis, the recovery would have been weaker. He added that so long as there is still slack in the economy, that slack only increases when government spends less.

He added that the CBO has always recommended a two track strategy in which the government invests in the economy when interest rates are low and while growth is slow and private sector investment is insufficient. At the same time, it recommends sticking to a budget that reduces long term deficit, he added.

"That's the sweet spot," he said.

Also on "Squawk Box," former Rep. Barney Frank said the unemployment rate would be much lower if government had not cut public sector jobs so severely in recent years.

Citing Federal Reserve data, the retired Massachusetts Democrat said the overall job total was up about 5 million from lows after the crisis. The private sector added about 6 million jobs, he said, while the public sector shed up to a million positions.

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"People talk about, 'We cut government spending.' I wish I could pass a law, despite the First Amendment, that said, 'Don't say I cut government spending. Thanks to me there are fewer firefighters. Because of me we don't have as many people inspecting your food. We don't do as much to clean up environmental waste,'" he said.

Frank said that while the government cannot embark on unlimited spending, he would like to see more spent in areas that increase the quality of life and where private companies do not invest—not because they are bad, but because it is not their job.