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Top Republican to address income disparity as "Occupy" protests continue

Eric Cantor
"Currently there is not a single debt limit proposal that can pass the House of Representatives."- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., July 13, 2011 Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The nation's widening income disparity is one of the issues driving the ongoing "Occupy Wall Street" protests -- and one of the issues Democrats have seized on to make the case that their party is better suited to help angry citizens. Now House Majority Eric Cantor plans to deliver a speech to emphasize that Republicans care about the issue as well.

Cantor -- who is often cast by Democrats as the face of Republican obstruction -- will talk about income disparity in a speech at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania this week. Cantor's office tells Hotsheet the GOP leader is likely to hit on points he made on "Fox News Sunday" over the weekend.

"We know in this country right now that there is a complaint about folks at the top end of the income scale, if they make too much and too many, don't make enough," Cantor said on Fox. "Well, we need to both go encourage those at the top of the income scale to actually put their money to work to create more jobs so that we can see a closing of the gap. You know, we are about income mobility and that's what we should be focused on to take care of the income disparity in this country."

As the "Occupy" protests against economic injustice and corporate corruption gain momentum and support across the country and internationally, Democrats have used the protests to highlight their economic agenda -- particularly their desire to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires. They've also sought to portray Republicans as out of touch with the middle class -- and they jumped on Cantor after he referred to the protesters as "growing mobs."

"Mobs? That must be what Republicans refer to as the middle class, or maybe the millions of unemployed Americans across the country," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wrote in an email to its supporters.

On Fox, Cantor deflected a question about whether he stood by those remarks. He then suggested Democrats are turning the issue of income disparity into an unproductive partisan debate.

"I think more important than my use of the word is the fact that there is a growing frustration out there across this country and it's warranted," he said. "People -- too many people are out of work. But where I'm most concerned is we have elected leaders in this town who, frankly, are joining in the effort to blame others rather than focus on the policies that have brought about the current situation."

Cantor said the House GOP's agenda of rolling back regulations, reducing the corporate tax rate and cutting spending gives private enterprise a chance to grow and thus gives people a chance for economic mobility. "We have seen that the other way doesn't work," he said on Fox of the president's agenda.

While Republicans and Cantor in particular have shown slightly more support for the "Occupy" protesters in recent weeks, they are not exactly embracing the cause at this point. Cantor's office said the majority leader's speech has been planned for months and is not in response to the protests.

Still, it's clear the GOP is intent on derailing Democrats' attempts to pin part of the blame for the economy on them.

In addition to exploiting the "Occupy" protests to blast Republicans, Democrats have castigated the GOP for blocking President Obama's $447 billion jobs package, portraying them as pure obstructionists. Republicans are vigorously denying that characterization, emphasizing their recent displays of bipartisanship, such as the passage of a trio of free trade agreements.

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