11/26/2012 03:03 pm ET

Eric Cantor Reheats, Serves Story Of Montana Builder-Turned-Cook

When Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) explains why Congress shouldn't raise taxes, lately he tells the story of an airport restaurant cook dreaming of better times.

"I was in Missoula, Mont., during the campaign and I met a gentlemen who had taken a job as a cook in an airport restaurant," the Virginia Republican said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Monday. "And he told me, 'Please fix this problem, because I want to get back to my profession, which was construction in the real estate industry.' He said, 'Please, we need more jobs. I need to go back to where my skill set is best used.'"

The big fight in Washington is over the top marginal income tax rate. Democrats want to return it to 39 percent for household income above $250,000, but Republicans want it to stay at 35 percent. Raising the rate, Cantor says, would not help people like the cook get back to his profession of choice.

"If there is a small business person out there in Montana, if you're saying you're going to raise taxes, that will be less money in his pocket to hire this gentleman away from being a cook and back to the profession he wants, so he can make the kind of money he's looking to make," Cantor said.

(The Congressional Budget Office said this month that higher taxes on higher incomes would have a very small negative effect on the economy, since higher earners are more inclined to save than spend their extra cash.)

Cantor also told the cook's tale Monday during an appearance on Fox News and again in a radio interview with Brian Kilmeade. He first told the story Nov. 4 on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The cook is Missoula resident Timothy Thomas, 37. Reached by telephone during his shift at Jedediah's at the Airport in Missoula on Monday, Thomas said he prepared food for Cantor and his entourage several days prior to the "Meet the Press" appearance. Cantor came into the kitchen to say thanks for lunch (he had a garden salad with a side of tuna), and Thomas said he told the House majority leader his personal story.

"What I told Eric Cantor was, I'm grateful to have this job and everything, but it sucks," Thomas said. "Living paycheck to paycheck, barely squeaking by."

Thomas said he started working in construction in 2002 after serving four years in the Marines. When the housing bubble popped, the work dried up, and Thomas took a job working for a chef in 2009. He said he is grateful for his job, though it pays $9.50 an hour -- much less than the $25 an hour he used to make in construction. It's a common story in a lame economic recovery fueled by low-wage jobs.

"Ever since the Democrats took the White House, there's no work," Thomas said. "I wished [Cantor] the best but I also said, 'You guys need to get with the program up in Washington. This isn't working, all this gridlock.'"

Thomas said he's conservative but not a Republican. He said Obama's plan for higher taxes will make it even harder to find a good job. He argued that if Obama gets his way, America's future could look something like Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, in which productive capitalists go on strike, leaving the world's loafers to fend for themselves. Societal collapse ensues.

“That's where we're headed. All the entrepreneurship is gonna be squashed," Thomas said. "All this redistribution of wealth, that's a bunch of crap."

Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper said in an email that Thomas' story of hard work in hard times resonated with Cantor.

"The leader told him he would fight for him and others who couldn't find employment that matched their skills over the past four years," Cooper said. "It is incredibly hard for people to find a job or build a career when Washington keeps piling taxes and regulations on top of job creators and small businesses. The food was delicious, the service exceptional and Missoula was beautiful."