By Russell Berman - 02/10/12 09:54 PM EST
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) took on President Obama’s “built to last” economic theme on Friday, saying the bigger government and higher taxes the president envisioned would instead create an economy “built to come in last.”
Cantor used a speech at Washington and Lee University to unleash a broad critique of the president’s State of the Union address and his election-year economic agenda.
The No. 2 House Republican criticized several of the metaphors Obama frequently uses to describe the economy, including his likening it to a “car” that was driven into a ditch by Republican policies. Cantor said it was wrong to think of an economy as “a machine which can be built and re-engineered” by government.
“A successful economy does not grow from a machine-like construction by government,” he said. “It grows from the somewhat chaotic but wonderfully inventive and creative networking and interactions of people — sellers and buyers in a free market.”
He added, “If an economy were ‘built to last,’ we'd still be relying on candles for illumination, relying on horses for transportation and relying on quill pens for written communication. That's not an economy built to last. That’s one built to come in last.”
Cantor touted a 20 percent small-business tax cut that House Republicans are proposing as part of their jobs agenda.
And he expanded on a theme he has pressed in speeches across the country: that government should help ensure all Americans have a “fair shot” and opportunity at success but should not ensure that outcome. Cantor noted that Obama had “co-opted” Republican rhetoric on the economy but said that “the president's concept of a ‘fair shot’ and mine differ.”
With both the White House and congressional Republicans shifting into campaign mode, Cantor’s speech contained fewer of the nods to bipartisanship that peppered his speeches in the fall, when Republicans were trying to project a softer image after a series of divisive spending fights.
Cantor criticized Obama’s proposal of a “Buffett rule” — named after the billionaire Warren Buffett — that would require millionaires to pay at least a 30 percent tax rate. He said people should be wary of proposals to increase investment taxes that would discourage innovation and entrepreneurship.
“We must ensure that those who abuse the rules are punished,” he said. “We must ensure that the solution to wealth disparity is wealth mobility. We must give everyone the chance to move up the ladder. That means punishing unlawfulness but not punishing success.”