There Really is a Joe the Plumber

Huffington Post has the details:

Who is Joe the Plumber?

He is Joe Wurzelbacher, an Ohio man looking to buy a plumbing business who came to symbolize the notion of “spreading the wealth” in Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

Earlier this week, when Wurzelbacher got a chance to speak with Obama when the candidate visited Toledo, he told Obama that his tax plan would keep him from buying the business that currently employs him.

Judging from the Huff Post article, Joe seems more comfortable with McCain. But I don’t understand precisely what his problem is:

In Toledo on Sunday, Wurzelbacher told Obama that he was preparing the company, which earns more than $250,000 a year, and said: “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?”

Obama said that under his proposal taxes on any revenue from $250,000 on down would stay the same, but that amounts above that level would be subject to a 39 percent tax, instead of the current 36 percent rate.

The difference between a 39 and a 36 percent tax rate is the difference between Joe buying or not buying the plumbing business? I don’t follow the argument.


  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    October 16, 2008

    If he’s buying a plumbing business, I’d call him “Joe the Entrepreneur” rather than “Joe the Plumber”. The financial situation of the guy who owns the company is not the same as that of the guy unblocking the toilets, even if the owner started his career with a plunger and a snake. If Joe hasn’t bought the business yet, the sobriquet is technically accurate, but its faux everyman connotations verge on deception, as if one had used “Joe Six-Pack” to refer to a man who owns a liquor store.

  2. #2 Lowell
    October 16, 2008

    Well, 3% of $250,000 is $7500. That certainly could be enough to affect the bottom line of a small business. I don’t know how much money you make, but $7500 is a lot to me right now.

    Has the issue been over-simplified? Probably. But that doesn’t mean it’s not somewhat valid.

    Will it change my vote from Obama to McCain? Nope.

  3. #3 tresmal
    October 16, 2008

    Doesn’t the $250k figure refer to personal income and not corporate revenue?

  4. #4 Chris Noble
    October 16, 2008

    Well, 3% of $250,000 is $7500.

    Isn’t it 3% of his income in excess of 250,000?

    If the company earns 300,000 then that would be 3% of 50,000 which is 1500.

  5. #5 Julian
    October 16, 2008

    It says amounts above $250,000 would be subject to 3% more, not the whole 250k.

  6. #6 Chris Noble
    October 16, 2008

    I won by 10 seconds!

  7. #7 georger
    October 16, 2008

    The 3% difference is a marginal tax rate so you can’t multiple 3% times 250K. Its only the income in the top tax bracket.

    and Tresmal….yes and that’s where eventually corporate tax rates impact personal wealth.

  8. #8 JYB
    October 16, 2008

    I think it was also pointed out in the Huffington post that having more money for lower and middle class families will help Joe because that’s more people that can afford to pay for his plumbing services.

    Having more people with more money helps people like Joe. Concentrated wealth won’t trickle down to Joe because his business is based on volume, not one rich guy who has more money now so he can afford to pay more for the same service.

    Of course, John McCain could support Joe himself by having him do all the plumbing on all his homes.

  9. #9 Conrad
    October 16, 2008

    The Top 50 Swing Voters: #27 – Joe The Plumber

    #50 – Hockey Moms – Demographic Power Play
    #47 – People with STDs – Burning for Change
    #40 – Anonymous Sperm Donors – Swimming Against The Tide
    #36 – Master Debaters – Everybody’s Doing It
    #29 – Nudists – Sticking To The Issues

  10. #10 Tony
    October 16, 2008

    The contention is that McCain would LOWER his income tax by a few thousand as well, so the differential is really close to to $8,000 per year difference for someone making $250,000.

    Joe’s S-Corp or LLC (my assumption) is a “pass-through” corporation, so the income is taxed at the personal rate of the proprietor.

    A new entrepenuer will have expenses, new employees, etc, so my guess is that his “income” would not be $250,000, although maybe his gross revenue would be close to that number.

  11. #11 liberal
    October 16, 2008

    Lowell wrote, Has the issue been over-simplified? Probably.

    Yes, particularly by people who don’t understand the difference between an average tax rate and a marginal tax rate.

    Like you.

  12. #12 Jim
    October 16, 2008

    Right. And you’re not taxed on gross income. Joe will only pay more if he nets in excess of $250k. And if Joe does indeed make that much money, then he is in the top few percent of all wage earners in this country, and by that definition he is rich. I don’t net anywhere near a quarter million dollars and I’ve got degrees in electrical engineering and computer science plus nearly 30 years of professional experience.

    Calling him “Joe the plumber” makes it sound like he’s some poor shmoe who brown bags and makes 35k.

  13. #13 slpage
    October 16, 2008

    That is nothing new.

    I remember when Clinton floated the possibility of a 4 cent a gallon gas tak back in, I think it was 1993 or so, to help pay for infrastructure and there people all over the news claiming that they would have to cancle vacation plans, lay off workers, etc., if that tax were put in place.

    I later observed how incredibly stupid those folks were when gas prices went up more than 10 cents due to normal fluctuations and the local news did not seem eager to report lay offs and cancelled vacations then (this was in Grand Rapids, MI, a very conservative area).

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    October 16, 2008

    I can’t believe anyone would be sympathetic to a plumber. The cost of hiring a plumber is so high that I have been forced to do all of my own work. I did not want to to that. Joe can go screw himself.

    The average american does not like the plumbers.

  15. #15 kate
    October 16, 2008

    What people fail to point out is that Joe the Plumber is making more than some 95% of American workers. Sure, someone is going to have to start paying their fair share of the tax load. It may be a lot harder for people when it’s THEM… or when you start putting names and faces on people, other people start getting worried because they can see it as THEM.

    Thing is, I don’t think I could have a lot of sympathy for a plumber who charges his customers so much that he makes 250K/ year. That just strikes me as WRONG somehow.

  16. #16 gort
    October 16, 2008

    Having to pay a higher marginal tax rate on net profits over 250K won’t prevent Joe from buying a business but would impact the price he should be willing to pay. What will be a show stopper is the collapse of the credit market unless Joe has the purchase price stashed under his mattress.

  17. #17 DaleP
    October 16, 2008

    I think Joe’s $250K is the purchase price of the business. None of that would be taxed, as it is the value of the business, not an income. I would be very surprised if a plumbing business valued at $250K had more than $100k annual net income. Joe is nowhere close to having additional income tax. On the other hand, after the debate he expressed concern about a slippery slope, saying if taxes increase for $250K income, maybe later Obama would increase income taxes for lesser incomes. In other words, he doesn’t trust Obama. That’s his choice, but trust is the issue, not stated plans.

  18. #18 Minnesotaman
    October 16, 2008

    The issue is Obama stated that he wants to “Spread the wealth around”. When it’s Obama’s money from his stupid books, he can spread that wealth around all he wants (which by the way, the only money of that he spread around when to his buddy Rev. Right at the hate America and whites church.) but Obama has no right to take my money and spread it around to undeserving leeching malcontents. Obama said, “People who make less than 250k have not had a tax break over the last 8 years” This is plain and simply bull crap and a bold faced lie. My brother has 4 kids and a cheating wife and makes 60k a year. He pays 0 taxes. In fact because of the tax credits, he actuall makes around 62-64k after taxes!!! Rediculous! So OBAMA, take your stupid lies and your rediculous tax plan and shove it.

  19. #19 Minnesotaman
    October 16, 2008

    Not to mention another Obama lie… the secret service has now confirmed, no such statements of “terrorist”, “Kill him”, or “Off with his head” ever took place at the McCain rallies… so unlike the “Joe the plumber video” where it is actually indisputable that Obama said he wants to “spread the wealth around”, there is no proof of and malicious comments said at McCain rallies, and this is just a media perpatrated lie probably with direction from the Obama campaign. Yet another instance of the MSM being COMPLETELY in the tank for Obama.

  20. #20 hmd
    October 16, 2008

    Well, Obama isn’t proposing to increase taxes on anyone making less than around $250,000 per year. (Net, personal income.)

    So if that is you, minnesotaman, cry all you want. I’m just not feeling very sorry for you.

    And Obama’s vision of spreading the wealth is making sure that kids who need money to go to college will have it, without mortgaging their future. Making sure that people who work hard all their lives have the health care they need. So they can continue to contribute to society. Those damn leeching malcontents!

    You can argue about the wisdom of Obama’s approach. Maybe it won’t work the way he hopes. Maybe too much of the money ends up in the wrong hands. But characterizing kids who just want to go to college and ordinary folks who just want the medical care they need as “leeching malcontents”? That’s just beyond the pale. That’s just, “I got mine, now pull up the ladder.”

  21. #21 Joe Shelby
    October 16, 2008

    I haven’t found independent verification yet, but the “rumor mill” quality reports from those who live in that county are that 1) he’s living in a VERY low-rent housing area, far below what his alleged income implies he should be living in, and 2) he hasn’t registered to vote, so all his anti-Obama complaints would be utterly moot in the first place.

    I’ll follow-up as I find confirmation (or corrections) of these.

  22. #22 mufi
    October 16, 2008

    According to

    McCain said “Joe the plumber” faced “much higher taxes” under Obama’s tax plan and would pay a fine under Obama’s health care plan if he failed to provide coverage for his workers. But Ohio plumber Joe Wurzelbacher would pay higher taxes only if the business he says he wants to buy puts his income over $200,000 a year, and his small business would be exempt from Obama’s requirement to provide coverage for workers.

    Further on, the article specifies that “small businesses commonly are organized in such a way that their owners file business taxes as individuals”, such that “if Joe’s plumbing business earns more than $200,000 per year (or $250,000 if Joe is married and files tax returns jointly) then his taxes would indeed be higher under Obama’s plan than under McCain’s.”

    Obviously, if one is categorically opposed to the principle of progressive taxation (i.e. the more you earn, the more you’re taxed), then Obama’s plan is objectionable.

    But, for those who believe that progressive taxation is, in principle, just:

    It’s worth noting that while Wurzelbacher told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that he lives “in a simple, middle class home” and portrayed himself as an ordinary working guy, Wurzelbacher’s $250,000 to $280,000 is a bit higher than “ordinary.” In 2007, the last year for which the Census Bureau has figures, the median income for a family in Toledo, Ohio, was $43,553.

    IOW, how likely is it that Joe’s lifestyle will be negatively impacted by raising his tax rate a mere 3 percentage points, if his supposed income is roughly 6 times the median for his city?

  23. #23 Reginald Selkirk
    October 16, 2008

    Joe the Plumber talks to CBS News

    He also says he actually isn’t in the bracket where Obama would raise his taxes — but he’s worried that Obama will shift the bracket down.

  24. #24 mk
    October 16, 2008

    Apparently good o’l Joe W. also thinks Barack Obama tap dances just like Sammy Davis Jr.


  25. #25 Jim Harrison
    October 16, 2008

    After hundreds of years of experience with capitalism, most of the world has decided that income redistribution is a very good idea, not only because it puts a check on the limitless acquisition of political power by the super rich but because economies fall into depressions when the incomes of the mass of the population can’t generate enough aggregate demand. When the money is concentrated at the top, entrepreneurs have trouble finding profitable investments because there are only so many mansions and jets you can sell to the relatively small group at the top. Speculative bubbles and massive crashes predictably result.

    Republicans denounce progressive taxation as a utopian scheme invented by demonic ideologues who appeal to the envy of freeloading bums to promote an abstract and inhumane egalitarianism. In fact, the rationale for redistribution has more to do with James Madison and John Maynard Keynes than with Karl Marx. Or, in other words, shut the fuck up about class warfare.

  26. #26 Lorax
    October 16, 2008

    Minnesotaman, paranoid much?

  27. #27 mark
    October 16, 2008

    Apparently “Joe the Plumber” not only is real, but is closely related to the former senior vice president of the parent company of Lincoln Savings and Loan and son-in-law of Charles Keating (see here). Further, he apparently had made up his mind before his encounter with Obama whom to support.

  28. #28 trrll
    October 16, 2008

    The issue is Obama stated that he wants to “Spread the wealth around”. When it’s Obama’s money from his stupid books, he can spread that wealth around all he wants (which by the way, the only money of that he spread around when to his buddy Rev. Right at the hate America and whites church.) but Obama has no right to take my money and spread it around to undeserving leeching malcontents.

    Except that the government is already taking your money. It is called taxes. And a huge proportion of your taxes go to protect the most well-to-do people in the country–the ones who benefit the most from such things as huge corporate bail-outs (which do very little for “undeserving leeching malcontents.” What Obama needs to do is point out that he is merely asking the people who benefit the most to pay their fair share of the cost.

  29. #29 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 16, 2008

    Greg Laden –

    Have you seen this article? It discusses how snobby Ivy Leaguers have been crippled by their educations to the point where they can’t make small talk with plumbers. Somehow your comment reminded me of it!

    I like my plumber. He keeps my pipes flowing.

  30. #30 Reginald Selkirk
    October 16, 2008
  31. #31 JimCH
    October 16, 2008

    Excuse the topic change; is “The Monty Hall Problem” gonna be out before the new year?

  32. #32 skyotter
    October 16, 2008

    [sarcasm] he’s really real? no way! next you’ll be tellin’ us Sarah Palin is real, too {/sarcasm]

  33. #33 mk
    October 16, 2008

    Joe The Not Licensed Plumber Who is Really Nowhere Near Being Able to Buy the Business He Told Obama He Intended to Buy.

    Could there be a better example of the “Working Class Hero” voting against his best interests?

    Republicans have so demonized the entire notion of taxes they’ve got marginally employed plumbers assistants jacked up over a candidate who will in fact NOT raise his taxes. But Joe, like so many others, has a dream of one day being wealthy and buying his buddies business and gosh darn it he shouldn’t “get punished” for his success… if it ever happens, someday, you know, down the road a ways… you know? I mean that’s just not right, now is it? Haaaa-rumph!

  34. #34 Sanity Jane
    October 16, 2008

    Calling him “Joe the plumber” makes it sound like he’s some poor shmoe who brown bags and makes 35k.

    I’d love to make 35k. This year we’ll be lucky if our family income tops 35k. On the bright side, it’s not quite as gut-wrenching watching the Dow plunge since we lost all our investments for retirement in the tech crash a few years back.

  35. #35 BaldApe
    October 16, 2008

    I’m sorry, but he’s making a quarter of a million dollars a year. Boo friggin’ Hoo. Let the rich son of a bitch pay an extra $7000 in taxes.

    This is how the Republican lie machine works. They try to make ordinary people think that they are in for a tax increase by making someone who makes more than 95% of Americans look average. So now some Walmart greeter making $16,000 a year will think “Obama will raise my taxes.”

  36. #36 s�ve
    October 17, 2008
  37. #37 sve
    October 17, 2008


  38. #38 Reginald Selkirk
    October 17, 2008

    Hot darn! Joe might have as much staying power as Sarah Palin:
    Joe the Unlicensed Plumber is Delinquent on His Taxes

  39. #39 FastLane
    October 17, 2008

    I’m consistently amazed (dumbfounded, really) at how simple little catch phrases like ‘redistribution of wealth’ sit so easily with the mouthbreathers on the right, with no actual fact checking or thought involved.

    Taxation always involves redistribution of wealth in some way. If one takes even a few minutes to look at the economic trends in the US, the redistribution has been from the poor and middle class to the wealthier segment of the population. Yet, ‘the base’ is perfectly content with that, even though it was a much more negative effect on the majority than the reverse. It just goes to show that good propaganda can get people to vote against their own self interest, and not even for the greater good.

    My income will break 6 figures for the first time this year (married, no kids). I expect to pay my fair share. I live well below my means, which allows me to buy the occasional luxury item, put away a decent amount for retirement, and still contribute to charities every year.

    I don’t have kids, so a big part of my (local) taxes go to paying for other people’s children to go to school. I’m ok with that too, and I’m against school vouchers.


  40. #40 Bezoar
    October 17, 2008

    some of you are right, others wrong (that’s usual). Joe isn’t his real first name, he’s NOT a licensed plummber so he couldn’t even run a business like this. His claim of $250,000 is purchase price, not income from the business so even if he WERE to buy it, and then somehow get alicese to run it, he would be getting a tax break, not a tax increase.
    McCain is an idiot anyway; called him Wutrzel BERGER. Geez anothe Geaorge Bush-ism.
    He also called the home loan companies Fannie and Fredie mac during the debate. That’s reason enough not to vote for him. One village idiot inthe ofice of President was enough.
    Obama may be a terrorist, muslim or even the anti-christ but at least he’s Harvard educated :-).

  41. #41 mk
    October 17, 2008


    Holy cow! Honey is that you? ;^}

    Just kidding, but seriously, you just described mine and my wife’s life! Eerie!

  42. #42 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 17, 2008

    FastLane –

    Well said!

  43. #43 mark
    October 17, 2008

    Oh, and I just saw (on Washington Monthly, I think) that he is originally from Mesa, Arizona.
    The main-stream media are saying McCain referring to Joe the Plumber is referring to a symbol, of the Everyman, the Typical American, usw. Crankypants had better be careful, because others may see a symbol that he did not have in mind.

  44. #44 Rick T
    October 19, 2008

    I’m in construction and am self employed. I will net over 100,000 this year. I work around plumbers and know that they don’t make more than I do. I gross anywhere from 160,000 to as much as 300,000 some years depending on materials and other expenses. Anyone with his head out of his butt knows that you are taxed on your net. Buying a business is not earning money but spending money therefore an expense that isn’t taxed. What a dolt.

    I am not worried about those few rich having a small, insignificant to them, tax hike. Especially, when it used to be the norm pre-Regan for the rich to be taxed at a higher rate. Now-days, they often pay less than we do. Last year Warren Buffet said he paid less than his secretary.
    I would like a tax cut to help pay for my health care and my daughter’s college education. I’m not poor enough to have the government help me do either. Let the rich return to pulling their weight again because it always seems that when this happens our economy flourishes. The more we all have to spend then the more the rich have to sell us. No income, no way to support those businesses that rich people own.
    Another point, has dumb ass Joe thought that having affordable health care can be a significant chunk of change?
    If this phony ever does buy a business he will need health care for himself and his employees. Isn’t he concerned that McCain will tax any credits he gets for health care?
    Jeez, he worries about maybe waking up rich one day and resenting an extra couple thousand in taxes but doesn’t mind paying more taxes and being taxed for health care now if McCain gets elected. What a lying loon.

  45. #45 Kevin
    October 22, 2008

    “Last year Warren Buffet said he paid less than his secretary. ”

    err, Rick, that was a lower RATE than her. He paid a lot more in taxes. Most personal income taxes are paid by the rich. Its because they make most of the money in the country.

    “Mr Buffett said that he was taxed at 17.7 per cent on the $46 million he made last year, without trying to avoid paying higher taxes, while his secretary, who earned $60,000, was taxed at 30 per cent.”

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