Beto O'Rourke

Beto O'Rourke: Tax the Non-Military Rich to Pay for Veterans

The presidential candidate wants to end wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and levy a "war tax" for every future conflict.


On Monday, sixth-place Democratic presidential contender Beto O'Rourke unveiled a big new plan to pay for the health care of U.S. military veterans, while attempting to transform the Veterans Affairs medical system from bureaucratic morass to health care trailblazer.

The plan's two key elements will surprise no one paying attention to the Democratic presidential race: end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and tax the rich (in this case, defined as those earning more than $200,000 a year in adjusted gross income). The twist: The proposed "war tax" would "be levied on households without current members of the Armed Forces or veterans of the Armed Forces."

"This new tax would serve as a reminder of the incredible sacrifice made by those who serve and their families," reads the campaign's write-up (which, incidentally, refers to O'Rourke as "Beto" throughout). "Over the next few decades, the costs related to health care and disability compensation for the 'forever wars' in Iraq and Afghanistan alone are projected to be nearly a trillion dollars. Today, these services—ones which we have promised to veterans and ones which they are owed—are subject to fiscal battles in Washington. They should not be."

The war tax would apply only to future conflicts, and only to those explicitly authorized by Congress. (O'Rourke has been a consistent critic, through Democratic and Republican administrations, of unconstitutional executive branch war-making.) As for the current needs of vets, "Beto would propose that Congress invest $1 out of every $2 dollars saved [by ending the wars in Afghanistan in Iraq]—estimated at nearly $200 billion to vets, and at least $400 billion in total savings—in programs that benefit those who served."

The plan contains things to like, things to dislike, and things that make you go hmmm. On the positive side, baked right into it is a righteous critique of Forever War. "Eighteen years into the war in Afghanistan, and nearly three decades after our first engagement in Iraq, the time has come to cancel the blank check for endless war and to ensure that any future engagements are the result of a national conversation about our security interests and duly authorized by Congress."

This is familiar territory for the toothsome Texan. As I wrote in December:

O'Rourke was a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is a withering critic of both the Iraq and Libya interventions ("two incredibly ill-conceived regime change wars?"), opposed bombing Syria, and has consistently called on Congress to end the open-ended post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force ("blank check for endless war") and reassert its war-declaration powers. "Troubling, unconstitutional, to be at war in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen & Somalia, in addition to Afghanistan, w/out informed authorization," he tweeted in 2017. "Why do we have such a hard time admitting the West's role and culpability in the problems in the Middle East?" he wrote in 2016.

I also appreciate the gesture, increasingly rare in the Democratic conversation, of having some big new spending proposal paid for. "We're running $1 trillion annual deficits and we cannot continue to spend ourselves into ruin," O'Rourke said in 2012, and he's right. Though I wish the 2019 version shared his predecessor's willingness to, you know, actually cut spending.

Less promising to my admittedly cynical ears is O'Rourke's vision of "moderniz[ing] the VA by increasing transparency and accountability" and "addressing staffing shortages," while "positioning the VA to drive an industry-wide digital health care revolution." It's not clear to me that the widespread problems with the centrally planned government health care system can be fixed by better central planning, and O'Rourke's faith in government-spurred "standardization of electronic health care data" may well be misplaced.

There's some granular and sensible-sounding stuff in there about allowing V.A. doctors to prescribe medical cannabis, and O'Rourke is right to sound the alarm about veterans' suicide rates. But the plan includes some microscopic level of detail—"reverse boot camps" for returning veterans! "Instruct VA to publicize their efforts to combat sexual harassment at their facilities and metrics for success to ensure accountability"!—that will get lost in chatter about war-taxing the non-military rich.

Though as the Houston Chronicle points out, these are the weeds O'Rourke knows best. "The plan for veterans recalls some of his biggest legislative victories while serving in Congress from 2012 to 2018," Texas's largest newspaper wrote. "Possibly his hallmark legislative accomplishment was a bill expanding mental health care for military veterans even if they received a less-than-honorable discharge, an idea that was an outgrowth of El Paso having one of the highest suicide rates for veterans in the nation."

The plan, coming on the heels of O'Rourke's big immigration policy heave, also reverses a number of Trump administration policies, such as the transgender troop ban.

Heading into this week's presidential debates, O'Rourke is polling at around 3.5 percent nationwide, down from an average of 8.3 percent in March. In the critical early state of Iowa, where he has staked his visit-every-county style of campaigning on, the former congressman is also polling at around 3.5 percent.

NEXT: Fired Harvard Dean Ronald Sullivan: 'Unchecked Emotion Has Replaced Thoughtful Reasoning on Campus'

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  1. Would you like to know more?

    1. “My service made me what I am today”
      —Beto, as the camera pans out to show his missing limbs.

      Seriously, though. Duck off with your war boner. Where to they find such chumps to run for president?

  2. I could get behind the idea of a war tax to make it clearer just what the costs of war are in both current and future spending. In the same way, it irks me that legislators and voters approve capital expenditures with no thought as to the future effects on the M+O budget. I’m pretty sure the spendthrift “party like there’s no tomorrow” parties in DC are laughing their asses off at the idea of paying now for hamburgers on Tuesday, though.

    And the idea of a ” industry-wide digital health care revolution” frankly alarms me, because I’m pretty sure which digit they’re going to use and which orifice they’ll be using it on.

    1. How to get a digital health care revolution: Get the government OUT OF THE WAY!

      I’ve been working for medical technology companies for almost twenty years now. The industry is pathologically [sic] conservative in its innovations, but much of that sluggardness is the result of demands imposed on it by government.

      The technology is there, and employed outside the healthcare industry. But within it every rollout has been a disaster. Still, some progress has been made over twenty years. We’re now up to 1980 levels of digital technology. Sigh.

      I’m currently working on two products by a major medical tech company, slated to be rolled out in the next five years. One has ZERO connectivity, but has plans to introduce it in the next generation of product. The other product has plans to communicate with an internal “cloud” for purposes of collecting engineering metrics. But not with any hospital, physician, EMT or patient. It’s utterly pointless. Good system, but it might as well not have connectivity for all the benefit it provides.

      And it’s this way because the FDA demands it be this way.

      1. What tech are you using?

        Our EMR can connect to a RHIO, CareQuality, CommonWell, Direct Addressing, and interface with some other systems that look at population health data.

  3. Wow, what a bad idea! And this from a Democrat! I grew up without a father because he was killed in active duty when I was 10 months old. I have already paid a heavy price. In effect, he is saying offer up one of your family members as a sacrifice to the state (and have them loose constitutional rights) or pay the state. Your money or your life!

  4. please run Robbie O’Rourke for president. please.

  5. […] {excerpt:n} Beto O’Rourke: Tax the Non-Military Rich to Pay for Veterans  Reason […]

  6. What about non-military rich who opposed the war? Should they be taxed? And what if the non-rich continue to support “endless wars” and military adventurism throughout the world, safe in the knowledge that the Beto war tax to fund it all will be paid by someone else? Won’t that encourage military adventurism, not discourage it?

  7. Tax, tax, tax, tax, TAX!

    Patient: ‘Doc, my back hurts!’
    Doctor: ‘Why there oughta be a tax!’
    Politician: ‘Done!’

    /all smile back at camera with thumbs up.

  8. The other looters, God’s Own Prohibitionists, dedicated their foreign-entanglements-cum-girl-baiting platform to First Responders™. This bought them the support of no-knock, dog-killing household murderers in blue. Only fair that the Dems see and raise by trying to make what’s left of the kids sent to shoot and bomb the other side of the planet into THEIR own Party militia. That’s the way Venezuelan dictators hold onto power, right? Men with guns overrule voters.

    1. You do realize that part of the point of an explicit war tax (rather then the implicit one we currently have) is to make it less likely that we’ll go to or stay in war, right?

  9. The demographic that has no family and never had any family in the military skews… Democrat.

    So this tax is largely a tax an affluent Democrats. Which sort of makes me like the tax already! But seriously, it punishes people who are single (no family means no one in the military), gay (less likely to have children), conscientious objectors (tax those bloody peaceniks), etc.

    Did this dude even think through his proposal? Or is throwing shit out there to see what sticks to the fan?

    1. It also punishes transgender people who are banned from serving in the first place, as well as parents of veterans who don’t live with them.

      Also, just for fun, if you did have an adult child living with you, and they went off to war and died, now you get to pay a tax.

  10. To whom does one complain when the article isn’t even close to factually ACCURATE? Who the fuck can’t do their JOB?

    His proposal isn’t ONLY FOR THE RICH.

    “Households making less than $30,000 per year would pay $25; those making less than $40,000 would pay $57; those making less than $50,000 would pay $98; those making less than $75,000 would pay $164; those making less than $100,000 would pay $270; those making less than $200,000 would pay $485; and those making more than $200,000 would pay $1,000.”

    1. Why, that’s a small price to pay for a war we didn’t need.

      1. I’m glad you feel that way. You’re welcome to pay for everyone who thinks it’s an asinine, discriminatory proposal.

  11. Two big issues:
    (A) the war tax must apply after all other calculations have been made. If possible, it shouldn’t even be part of normal taxes, it should be it’s own thing specifically to highlight that it isn’t part of normal operations.
    (B) you have to keep special interests from adding themselves to the exceptions. Too many exceptions breaks it.

    But overall I don’t see much wrong here. War should be it’s own thing, with an explicit tax to cover the current and anticipated costs. Rolling it into the normal budget is part of what enables “forever war”.

    1. And before anyone tries, no, I’m not a libertarian.

    2. >>>War should be it’s own thing, with an explicit tax to cover the current and anticipated costs.

      should also be fully democratic not representative? everyone votes up or down.

  12. Note to Beto: lots of Dem donors make over 200K a year and don’t consider themselves “rich”. Might want to rethink that.

    And why should people on the government payroll be exempt from any tax at all?

  13. How about maybe we just say we aren’t going to war anymore?

  14. To whom does one complain when the article isn’t even close to factually ACCURATE? Who the fuck can’t do their JOB?

  15. “Non-military rich?”

  16. I am not sure this is even constitutional. People don’t really have any control of what their adult family members do, including joining the military. Punishing/rewarding someone for the actions of relatives doesnt sound very American to me.

    Reminds me of that “brilliant” idea several years back that children of Congress(wo)men should all be conscripted first. I mean I get where they’re coming from, but why should a child get punished because their parent ran for office.

  17. But Beto’s tax would not be only on the non-military rich but on most households that don’t have a veteran in it. But any time a democrat get a new tax that tax becomes permanent. This tax would be the same.

  18. Just require a 3/4 Congressional majority vote for military combat longer than 5 days.

    Endless wars end tomorrow.

  19. Would it not make sense to tax the people who make more than, oh say, $173,999 and who actually VOTED to go to war rather than some random “rich” people?

  20. Actually, a war tax is a good idea…

    Make it so no war can be funded with any funds except those added ON TOP OF all other taxes collected by the government. They will be exactly the same percentage wise for all people of all income levels.

    If we need to raise taxes .5% to pay for a war, then everybody pays that much of their income to fund the war with no debt.

    I wonder how fast people would get pissed about that and demand we stop invading shit hole countries we have no business being in in the first place? My guess is PDQ.

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