Carney v. Cantor

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) this morning condemned Occupy Wall Street activists, saying they represent a “mob.” In apparent reference to Democrats, the Republican leader added that “some” in Washington are interested in “the pitting of Americans against Americans.”

I was glad to see White House Press Secretary Jay Carney take note of Cantor’s remarks. In fact, after noting the Majority Leader’s “unbound” hypocrisy, the president’s spokesperson brought up a good point I hadn’t thought of.

Back in April, Cantor appeared on CNBC to decry the number of Americans who don’t pay income taxes due to their low incomes. And while talking about tax policy, he suggested it was time those poorer people paid up.

“[W]hen you see these special interest loopholes and deductions and the rest, we’ve got to get rid of those, sure, because we want to bring down the rates for everybody,” Cantor said. “But we also have a situation in this country where you’re nearing 50 percent of people who don’t even pay income taxes.”

The line is a common one among Republicans these days, and critics have seen it as an attack on the poor by leaders of the GOP. Or, to put it another way, those critics see it as pitting one group of Americans (the poor) against another (the rich).

This is more than just a throwaway line at a press briefing. Leading Republican officials — including Cantor, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry — believe Americans who don’t make enough money to be eligible for income taxes should see their tax burdens go up. It’s the kind of far-right class warfare conservatives prefer not to acknowledge — the kind that says the wealthy should pay less, and working families should pay more. (Romney is an especially egregious example, since he’s a multi-millionaire who not only wants to raise working-class taxes, but also wants to ensure that folks at his income level pay a lower tax rate than the middle class.)

But this turns Cantor’s argument on its head. For the Majority Leader, activists who want millionaires and billionaires to sacrifice are guilty of “pitting Americans against Americans.” But Republicans, including Cantor, who want the middle class to face a tax hike are just being sensible.

Here’s a simple follow-up for Capitol Hill reporters: ask Cantor to explain the difference.