Cantor's bill removes a restriction that, in previous versions of the legislation, would have barred certain highly compensated professions — such as finance, law and health — from receiving the tax cut. The change allows people such as hedge fund managers, corporate lawyers, surgeons and celebrities to qualify for the break. Donald Trump and Oprah could qualify, for instance.
"In the first version, they were kept out, but in this one, they're in," said Chuck Marr, a director at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "This is really just a tax cut for the richest people in the country."
In fact, of the 400 richest taxpayers in the United States, 202 would qualify for the break, according to 2008 statistics from the Internal Revenue Service. Those 202 taxpayers averaged an adjusted gross income of $21.5 million.
But Cantor defended the move.
"As far as excluding businesses, which one may or may not approve of their legal activities, we don't make those distinctions when we're talking about corporate rates or individual rates," Cantor said.
He argued that businesses with few employees would not be able to take too much advantage because the tax break is capped at 50 percent of what the company pays to its workers or to its minor owners and family members who work for the business, whichever is greater.
"So there's not going to be a potential for that kind of abuse," Cantor said. "We're really about trying to help the small business owners who are out there working every day, and it just seems the government has got in the way. And we're just trying to provide them with some relief."
Cantor also defended proposing a $46 billion bill that would not be paid for.
"We in our budget provide for trillions of dollars in mandatory savings that help resolve the budget deficit and increasing debt in this country," he said. "We don't feel it's appropriate to burden small businesses, and that's why we are going forward with this bill."