Many small details have been learned about Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher — "Joe the Plumber" — since he became famous as a major topic at the last presidential debate. Among other things, he is a 34-year-old single father raising his son, is not a licensed plumber, has an Ohio tax lien pending against him for $1,182.92 (he may not have known about this until reporters discovered it) and voted Republican in the March primary in Ohio this year. We also know that voting officials incorrectly have his name recorded as Worzelbacher, which means if he were a new voter in Florida, he would fail the "No Match, No Vote" test and would have to cast a provisional ballot unless the record was corrected. But before all of that, there was this: the transcript of the original meeting caught on tape between Barack Obama and Wurzelbacher as Obama walked down Joe the Plumber's street in the Toledo suburb of Holland.
Obama: What's your name?
Joe: My name's Joe Wurzelbacher.
Obama: Good to see you, Joe.
Joe: I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes about $250,000 … $270-$280,000 a year.
Obama: All right.
Joe: Your new tax plan's gonna tax me more, isn't it?
Obama: Well, here's what's gonna happen. If you're a small business which you would qualify as, first of all, you'd get a 50 percent tax credit, so you get a cut on taxes for your health care costs. So you would actually get a tax cut on that front. If your revenue is above $250,000, then from $250,000 down, your taxes are gonna stay the same. It is true that for … say, from $250,000 up, from $250,000 to $300,000 or so …
Joe: Well, here's my question …
Obama: I just want to answer your question. So, for that additional amount, you'd go from 36 to 39 percent, which is what it was under Bill Clinton. And the reason we're doing that is because 95 percent of small businesses make less than $250,000 so what I want to do is give them a tax cut. I want to give all these folks who are bus drivers, teachers, auto workers who make less … I want to give them a tax cut and so what we're doing is, we are saying that folks who make more than $250,000 that that marginal amount above $250,000, they're gonna be taxed at a 39 instead of a 36 percent rate.
Joe: Well, the reason why I ask you about the American Dream I mean, I work hard. I'm a plumber, I work 10-12 hours a day …
Joe: … and I'm, you know, buying this company and I'm gonna continue to work that way. Now, if I buy another truck and adding something else to it and, you know, build the company, you know, I'm getting taxed more and more while fulfilling the American Dream.
Obama: Well, here's a way of thinking about it. How long have you been a plumber? How long have you been working?
Joe: Fifteen years.
Obama: Okay. So, over the last 15 years, when you weren't making $250,000, you would have been getting a tax cut from me. So you'd actually have more money, which means you would have saved more, which means that you would have gotten to the point where you could build your small business quicker than under the current tax code. So there are two ways of looking at it. I mean, one way of looking at it is, now that you've become more successful …
Joe: Through hard work.
Obama: … through hard work, you don't want to be taxed as much.
Obama: Which I understand. But another way of looking at it is, 95 percent of folks who are making less than $250,000, they may be working hard, too, but they're being taxed at a higher rate than they would be under mine. So what I'm doing is … you know, put yourself back 10 years ago when you were only making whatever — $60,000 or $70,000. Under my tax plan, you would be keeping more of your paycheck, you'd be spending lower taxes, which means that you would have saved and gotten to the point where you are faster. Now, look, nobody likes high taxes, right? Of course not. But what's happened is that we end up … we've cut taxes a lot for folks like me who make a lot more than $250,000. We haven't given a break to folks who make less and, as a consequence, the average wage and income for just ordinary folks, the vast majority of Americans, has actually gone down over the last eight years. So all I want to do is … I've got a tax cut. The only thing that changes is, I'm going to cut taxes a little bit more for the folks who are most in need, and for the 5 percent of the folks who are doing very well, even though they've been working hard … and I understand that; I appreciate that … I just want to make sure that they're paying a little bit more in order to pay for those other tax cuts. Now, I respect your disagreement, but I just want you to be clear. It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance at success, too.
Joe: It seems like you'd be welcome to a flat tax then.
Obama: You know, I would be open to it except for … here's the problem with the flat tax. If you actually put a flat tax together, you'd probably … 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, 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 it. And I do believe that for folks like me who are, you know, have worked hard but, frankly, also been lucky, I don't mind paying just a little bit more than the waitress who 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. But, listen, I respect what you do and I respect your question. And even if I don't get your vote, I'm still gonna be working hard on your behalf 'cause I want to make sure … small businesses are what creates jobs in this country and I want to encourage it. All right. (applause) One other thing I didn't mention. For small-business people, I'm gonna eliminate the capital gains tax, so what it means is if your business succeeds and let's say you take it from a $250,000 business to a $500,000 business, that capital gains that you get, we're not gonna tax you on it 'cause I want you to grow more so you're actually going … you may end up … 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 plan. I can't guarantee that 'cause I'd have to take a look at your business.
Joe: Okay, I understand that.
Obama: All right. Thanks for the question, though. I appreciate it. Okay, guys, I gotta get out here. I've gotta go prepare for this debate. But that was pretty good timing. Thanks.