Prev | List | Random | Next
...may be the big loser in last night's debate. (I know - he's officially been declared the winner, but follow along.) Since Senators Obama and McCain agree to disagree on "Joe the Plumber", and since the issue really does represent a definable difference in what each man stands for, shouldn't clarity on the Joe the Plumber issue be of benefit to Americans?
Or should Joe just go away?
Let's start from a position of clarity (that likely will be lost in coming days). You might hear or read that Joe is going to be making over $250,000 a year. He won't. This is what Joe told Senator Barack Obama: "I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes 250 to 280 thousand dollars a year." Joe won't be pocketing that cash - he's concerned Obama wants to take the money he'd use to grow his business, buy tools, hire more employees, repair vehicles etc. and use it elsewhere. So he asked him if that was true:
"I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes 250 to 280 thousand dollars a year," Wurzelbacher said. "Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?"And for the record, Obama gave a long, thoughtful answer that indicated he understood that Joe was talking about business revenue - not personal income ("if your revenue is above 250 – then from 250 down, your taxes are going to stay the same") - but that boils down to "yes". And this is the bottom line - at least, it's the reason Obama gave Joe for raising taxes on his business: "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."
And for the record, here's what I said about that yesterday: "...Obama [has reached] a point in the polls where he can tell a plumber to his face that he's going to raise his taxes to give the money to others without fear of alienating the Great Independent American Center."
And that candor is a good thing. If that's what the majority of Americans want, they'll vote him in as president. He's being up front and honest. He might not want to use the term Socialism, but call it that or Obamanomics or anything else, if it's what America wants it's what America will get. If the Senator didn't think that represented a view of a majority of Americans he wouldn't have explained it so unequivocally.
Senator McCain believes that's not a position supported by a majority of Americans, so he mentioned Joe as many times as he could during last night's debate. He didn't mischaracterize his opponent's position, and rather than deny his position Senator Obama responded by comparing Joe the Plumber to Exxon:
McCain: I would like to mention that a couple days ago Sen. Obama was out in Ohio and he had an encounter with a guy who's a plumber, his name is Joe Wurzelbacher.After the debate, the talking heads pounced on the "Joe the Plumber" comments. I've already seen a dozen debate clips, edited down to nothing but McCain saying "Joe the Plumber". The spin is that McCain is obsessed with Joe the Plumber, and the message is that America doesn't want to hear about Joe the Plumber. And on MSNBC (the channel I watched post-debate) the sneering at Joe the Plumber (and his non-existent $250,000 salary) began early and was repeated often.
Joe wants to buy the business that he has been in for all of these years, worked 10, 12 hours a day. And he wanted to buy the business but he looked at your tax plan and he saw that he was going to pay much higher taxes.
You were going to put him in a higher tax bracket which was going to increase his taxes, which was going to cause him not to be able to employ people, which Joe was trying to realize the American dream.
Now Sen. Obama talks about the very, very rich. Joe, I want to tell you, I'll not only help you buy that business that you worked your whole life for and be able -- and I'll keep your taxes low and I'll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees.
And I will not have -- I will not stand for a tax increase on small business income. Fifty percent of small business income taxes are paid by small businesses. That's 16 million jobs in America. And what you want to do to Joe the plumber and millions more like him is have their taxes increased and not be able to realize the American dream of owning their own business.
Schieffer: Is that what you want to do?
McCain: That's what Joe believes.
Obama: He has been watching ads of Sen. McCain's. Let me tell you what I'm actually going to do. I think tax policy is a major difference between Sen. McCain and myself. And we both want to cut taxes, the difference is who we want to cut taxes for.
Now, Sen. McCain, the centerpiece of his economic proposal is to provide $200 billion in additional tax breaks to some of the wealthiest corporations in America. Exxon Mobil, and other oil companies, for example, would get an additional $4 billion in tax breaks.
What I've said is I want to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of working Americans, 95 percent. If you make more -- if you make less than a quarter million dollars a year, then you will not see your income tax go up, your capital gains tax go up, your payroll tax. Not one dime.
And 95 percent of working families, 95 percent of you out there, will get a tax cut. In fact, independent studies have looked at our respective plans and have concluded that I provide three times the amount of tax relief to middle-class families than Sen. McCain does.
Now, the conversation I had with Joe the plumber, what I essentially said to him was, "Five years ago, when you were in a position to buy your business, you needed a tax cut then."
And what I want to do is to make sure that the plumber, the nurse, the firefighter, the teacher, the young entrepreneur who doesn't yet have money, I want to give them a tax break now. And that requires us to make some important choices.
The last point I'll make about small businesses. Not only do 98 percent of small businesses make less than $250,000, but I also want to give them additional tax breaks, because they are the drivers of the economy. They produce the most jobs.
McCain: You know, when Sen. Obama ended up his conversation with Joe the plumber -- we need to spread the wealth around. In other words, we're going to take Joe's money, give it to Sen. Obama, and let him spread the wealth around.
I want Joe the plumber to spread that wealth around. You told him you wanted to spread the wealth around.
The whole premise behind Sen. Obama's plans are class warfare, let's spread the wealth around. I want small businesses -- and by the way, the small businesses that we're talking about would receive an increase in their taxes right now.
Who -- why would you want to increase anybody's taxes right now? Why would you want to do that, anyone, anyone in America, when we have such a tough time, when these small business people, like Joe the plumber, are going to create jobs, unless you take that money from him and spread the wealth around.
I'm not going to...
Obama: OK. Can I...
McCain: We're not going to do that in my administration.
Obama: If I can answer the question. Number one, I want to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans. Now, it is true that my friend and supporter, Warren Buffett, for example, could afford to pay a little more in taxes in order...
McCain: We're talking about Joe the plumber.
Obama: ... in order to give -- in order to give additional tax cuts to Joe the plumber before he was at the point where he could make $250,000.
Then Exxon Mobil, which made $12 billion, record profits, over the last several quarters, they can afford to pay a little more so that ordinary families who are hurting out there -- they're trying to figure out how they're going to afford food, how they're going to save for their kids' college education, they need a break.
So, look, nobody likes taxes. I would prefer that none of us had to pay taxes, including myself. But ultimately, we've got to pay for the core investments that make this economy strong and somebody's got to do it.
McCain: Nobody likes taxes. Let's not raise anybody's taxes. OK?
Obama: Well, I don't mind paying a little more.
McCain: The fact is that businesses in America today are paying the second highest tax rate of anywhere in the world. Our tax rate for business in America is 35 percent. Ireland, it's 11 percent.
Where are companies going to go where they can create jobs and where they can do best in business?
We need to cut the business tax rate in America. We need to encourage business.
Now, of all times in America, we need to cut people's taxes. We need to encourage business, create jobs, not spread the wealth around.
Schieffer: All right. Let's go to another topic.
The reality is that Joe the Plumber represents a significant fault line upon which the campaigns have bet their future. Buoyed by the knowledge that the majority of Americans don't own small businesses, Senator Obama is confident that his position is shared by that majority of Americans. Senator McCain is convinced the opposite is true. Both have offered clear explanations on the topic. Team Obama's media reps have already launched the initial "move on, nothing to see here" response that seems to follow every claim by McCain that his policies differ from Obama's. Historically McCain's continued explanations of policy differences beyond his opponent's dismissal (or "additional clarification") have brought charges of "out of touch" (at best) from a media that does indeed move on - seemingly as ordered. Will that happen this time? Certainly one "Joe the Plumber" is about to get his fifteen minutes of fame, whether that focuses attention on the real issue or not will determine if the millions of Joe (or Josephine) the Plumbers (and carpenters and mechanics and IT guys...) across America won or lost this last debate.