Video: Not your average Joe: Plumber steals the show

NBC News and
updated 10/16/2008 4:54:00 PM ET 2008-10-16T20:54:00

“Joe the plumber,” the new face of middle-class America after Sen. John McCain made him famous in Wednesday night’s presidential debate, isn’t technically a plumber, and he probably wouldn’t be adversely affected by Sen. Barack Obama’s tax plan. But the issues he raises are important and worth examining for their impact on small businesses.

Joe the plumber — Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, 34, of suburban Toledo, Ohio — is the first to say that he’s not the story and that no one should listen to him when it comes to tax policy.

“I just hope I’m not making too much of a fool of myself and can get some type of message out there as far as, you know, really watch actions and learn for yourself,” Wurzelbacher said Thursday outside his home. “Don’t take other people’s opinions.”

Wurzelbacher first came to attention over the weekend, when he engaged Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, in a six-minute discussion of tax policy at a rally in Holland, Ohio. He told Obama that he was a plumber and was hoping to buy his boss’s business, which he said made $250,000 to $280,000 a year. He was concerned, he said, that Obama’s economic proposals would mean he’d be kicked into a higher tax bracket.

Wednesday night, McCain adopted Wurzelbacher as the representative of struggling middle-class Americans, addressing many of his comments directly to “Joe the plumber,” whom he misidentified as “Joe Wurzelburger.”

“The real winner last night was Joe the plumber. Joe’s the man,” McCain said Thursday at a campaign rally in Downington, Pa. “He won, and small businesses won across America. They won because Americans are not going to let Senator Obama raise taxes in a tough economy.”

‘There’s a lot I’ve got to learn’
Legally speaking, Wurzelbacher isn’t a plumber, because he isn’t licensed by Toledo, Lucas County or the state of Ohio. A representative of the Toledo Building Inspection Division said a plumber must be registered with the state and only then can apply for a city plumbing contractor’s license.

Wurzelbacher said he worked under the license held by his boss, Al Newell of Newell Plumbing and Heating Co. of Toledo. Newell is a licensed plumbing contractor in Toledo, records show. But anyone working under Newell should have a journeyman’s plumbing license or an apprenticeship license, officials said.

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Building Inspection officials said Newell was responsible for making sure that anyone working under him was licensed. The Toledo Plumbing Board of Control may consider sanctions against Wurzelbacher or Newell, officials told NBC affiliate WNWO of Toledo.

“There’s a lot I’ve got to learn” about the plumbing business, Wurzelbacher said Thursday.

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Wurzelbacher also acknowledged that he had no specific plans for buying Newell’s business, saying he and Newell had simply talked about the idea from time to time. He might have difficulty making the purchase: Court records from his divorce show that Wurzelbacher made $40,000 in 2006.

Even if he did buy Newell Plumbing and Heating, Obama’s tax plan wouldn’t affect him. While Wurzelbacher told Obama that he would be taxed at a higher rate because the company grossed more than $250,000 a year, Ohio business records show the company’s estimated total annual revenue as only $100,000. Actual taxable income would be even less than that.

In any event, Obama’s tax plan specifies that the higher rate would apply only to income above the $250,000 threshold. Assuming Wurzelbacher’s income as owner somehow hit $280,000 — the top end of his supposition of the company’s revenue — only the extra $30,000 would be taxed at a higher rate.

Joe says Obama would be ‘hurting others’
Analysts calculated that the extra tax would amount to $900, which would likely be more than offset by separate provisions of Obama’s plan: a 50 percent tax credit for health care and elimination of the capital gains tax for small businesses.

“I’d have to look at your particular business, but you might end up paying lower taxes under my plan and my approach than under John McCain’s,” Obama told Wurzelbacher during their exchange last weekend.

At the time, Wurzelbacher replied, “Oh, yeah, I understand that.” But by Thursday, he had reconsidered.

“If you believed [Obama], I’d be receiving his tax cuts, but I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “He’d still be hurting others.”

Wurzelbacher, a registered Republican, refused to say whom he would vote for, insisting that “I want the American people to vote for who they want to vote for. I just want them to be informed when they make that vote.”

But he hinted that his choice would be McCain, the Republican standard-bearer, whom he said it would be “an honor” to meet. Asked about other issues by a covey of curious reporters, Wurzelbacher voiced strongly Republican opinions.

“Social Security’s a joke,” he said. “I have parents. I don’t need another set of parents called the government. Let me take my money and invest it how I please.”

On immigration: “I wish our borders were closed.”

And on the war in Iraq, which McCain has strongly supported: “I’m not sorry we’re in Iraq. ... It’s made us safer. I absolutely believe that.”

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