We have a new political star, Joe the Plumber. The big question is, how much more or less in taxes will Joe pay under the presidential candidates' tax plans?
The next big question is, who will portray Joe the Plumber on Saturday Night Live and whether a particular tasteless anatomy joke will be part of the skit?
In all seriousness, business taxes are a critical component of the tax proposals offered by presidential contenders Barack Obama and John McCain.
During last night's final debate, both men addressed the overall topic of taxes, and to a degree, Joe's personal concerns.
"Look nobody likes taxes. I would prefer that none of us had to pay taxes, including myself," Obama said. "But ultimately we've got to pay for the core investments that make this economy strong, and somebody's got to do it."
That prompted McCain to respond, "If nobody likes taxes, let's not raise anybody's taxes, okay?"
I realize it was a "debate" in which sound bites were as much a goal as substantive discussion, but I've got to go with Obama on this one.
McCain has repeatedly said he will balance our enormous budget deficit in his first term. I don't have an advanced math degree and I haven't stayed in a Holiday Inn Express at all this year, so maybe that's why McCain's pledge doesn't seem possible.
I just don't see how he can pull that one off. There's not nearly enough so-called extraneous spending to make up the costs of:
- Our military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan,
- The $700 billion financial services bailout (plus add-ons), and
- McCain's own new tax breaks
And let's not forget that the core of McCain's tax philosophy, stated repeatedly, is to make Dubya's existing tax breaks, set to expire at the end of 2010, permanent.
Joe's tax bill: But let's leave that larger tax issue for a moment and look at Joe's specific situation.
Joe is Joe Wurzelbacher of Holland, Ohio, who has been a plumber for 15 years. He encountered Obama during a campaign visit to that battleground state amd point-blank asked the Democratic candidate, "I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year. Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?"
Obama acknowledged that might indeed be the case, but also pointed to tax credits that could make a difference in Joe's and other small business owners' cases. And it looks like McCain's latching onto Joe as as an example of widespread tax increases for small businesses under the Obama plan is not quite accurate.
The New York Times cites Small Business Administration data showing fewer than 6 million small businesses that actually have payrolls. The remainder are operations reporting income from hobbies or freelance work.
For those taxpayers, which includes me, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that fewer than 700,000 of us would have to pay higher taxes under the Obama plan.
are there, as McCain says,"millions of Joes" out there looking at higher taxes if Obama is elected? Probably not.
Joe's flat tax question: Reports of the Wurzelbacher and Obama encounter note that the businessman also raised the flat tax issue.
Neither the Obama nor McCain are flat-tax supporters. Both candidates instead stick with tweaks to our current progressive tax system.
MSNBC's First Read political column details the Obama-Wurzelbacher exchange. As for a flat tax, here's what Obama had to say about that concept during his conversation with Joe the Plumber:
You know, I would be open to it except here's the problem with a flat tax is that if you actually put a flat tax together, in order for it to work and replace all the revenue that we've got, you'd probably end up having to make it like about a 40 percent sales tax. I mean that's the value added, making it up. Now some people say 23 or 25, but in truth when you add up all the revenue that would need to be raised, you'd have to slap on a whole bunch of sales taxes on. And I do believe for folks like me who have worked hard, but frankly also been lucky, I don't mind paying just a little bit more than the waitress that I just met over there who's things are slow and she can barely make the rent. Because my attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody. If you've got a plumbing business, you're gonna be better off if you've got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody's so pinched that business is bad for everybody -- and I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.
You can watch the conversation yourself in the AP video below or click here if you're reading via RSS.
But despite all the attention as the new face of America's small business owners, Joe's not saying which candidate will get his vote on Nov. 4.
Multiple Joes: There are a couple of Web pages for some plumbing Joes, but none is Wurzelbacher.
One Joe the Plumber offers his plumbing and handyman services to residents of Oxnard, Ventura and Camarillo, Calif.
Another Joe the Plumber is based in Seattle, Wash.
And the owner of the prized joetheplumber.com URL is right here in the Lone Star State. Judging from his site's graphic, Joe the Plumber in Amarillo, Texas, obviously has a sense of humor about portrayals of his profession.
Is there a Joe or Josephine the Plumber in your neighborhood? If so, have you asked him or her what they think about the presidential race and how it might affect them personally and as business owners? If so, please let us know.