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Damn, we knew Beto O'Rourke is trying to enhance his policy chops in an attempt to keep up with Elizabeth Warren's Plans For Everything, but his just-released proposal for a "War Tax" to fund care for veterans of any new wars is just plain bad, and he should feel bad.

O'Rourke has some fairly conventional -- and even good -- ideas for improving the Department of Veterans Affairs and making it easier for veterans to get services, but they're also not all that exciting, tending toward "innovation" and "[focusing] on veterans holistically" to build a "state of the art" VA medical system. Nice, wonky, and not gonna grab any headlines. And as Adam Weinstein points out at New Republic, Beto deserves credit for one huge achievement as a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee:

particularly in securing emergency mental health services for vets with "bad paper," i.e. those with less-than-honorable discharges often stemming from health issues that were undiagnosed or stigmatized in the service. It's a good start, in terms of returning what's due to those who have served in an unprecedented stretch of overseas wars and transitioned to civilian life in a deeply iniquitous, divided society.

Along similar lines, O'Rourke calls for making VA care more inclusive by also extending services to veterans who had less-than-honorable discharges, while presumably still excluding actual war crimers.

But oh, lordy, this "War Tax" thing. Oh fucking lordy indeed.


Let's just grab the basics from O'Rourke's campaign website.

To ensure the care needed by veterans of our wars will always be funded, Beto would work with Congress to pass a law that creates a Veterans Health Care Trust Fund (VHCTF) for each war we fight.

At the start of any newly authorized war, a new trust fund will be established within the General Fund of the Treasury for future veterans of that war.
The trust fund will support veterans' hospital care and medical services; disability compensation; and any other programs directly related to the care of veterans.

So OK, he doesn't want any off-budget wars, which is probably a good response to the Bush approach to various military adventures. And yes, it's a good idea, foreign policy-wise, for wars to have congressional authorization. For the moment, we won't even mention the possibility that future presidents would play the same asshole game of claiming an existing authorization covers all possible military action, like the last three presidents have with the 9/11 authorization, because that's not even the point. No, the real bullshit is the "war tax" that would pay into that trust fund:

Under Beto's plan, every new VHCTF would be paired with enactment of new war tax. This new tax would serve as a reminder of the incredible sacrifice made by those who serve and their families.

• This modest tax would be implemented on a progressive basis, with taxpayers who make over $200,000 per year (adjusted gross income) paying $1,000 in a new tax for each war.
• The tax would be levied on households without current members of the Armed Forces or veterans of the Armed Forces. [Emphasis added]

CNN has the deets on how that tax would work out:

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.

We get what O'Rourke wants to do here; it's a variation on the idea that bringing back the draft might make Americans less likely to rush into foreign adventures, because that could be their son or daughter being sent off to die for oil (or rare earth minerals, for future wars). Only instead of our beloved children at stake, it would be our beloved ... money?

That sets up a weird division between American families: If the prospect of sending other people's children to go die for American interests isn't enough to prevent needless wars, guess we'll finally be motivated against bad military action by not wanting to pay a little extra tax. Thank you for your service, and now you should thank me for my tax dollars. And by golly, we'd sure be reminded of those military families' sacrifice every time we check our bank accounts. Ew.

Weinstein finds the idea repulsive:

It is a sick quirk of the English language that this sort of tiering makes a tax "progressive." Truly progressive ideas that might be preferable to financially penalizing teachers, cabbies, and construction workers for not having gone to boot camp would include making military contractors pay for wars, making billionaires pay for wars (Bernie Sanders has, in fact, proposed exactly this), or making legislators pay when they vote to authorize war.

I would listen to any serious policy proposal that promises to authorize fewer wars, damage fewer servicemembers and overseas civilians, and drive fewer wedges between Americans who have served and Americans who have not. O'Rourke's war-tax plan will do none of these things; it's likely to worsen our culture's gaping rift in civil-military relations. It is, after all, a mandatory literal tribute to "the troops."

On the up side, when we say we value our brave men and women in the armed forces, we'd be able to put an exact price on how much.

For that matter, Weinstein points out, we're already sending plenty of our beloved dollars off to get in uniform for Uncle Sam, or at least for General Dynamics:

First, every taxpaying American already antes up for war: roughly 24 cents of every tax dollar goes to defense (with more of that going to military contractors than to troops); another 6 cents goes to veterans' benefits. The average taxpayer already pays more toward Lockheed Martin's military contracts each year than O'Rourke's war tax would collect in the name of future veteran benefits.

More to the point, he says, there's something incredibly cynical and dehumanizing about equating Americans' treasure with the blood and body parts and sanity of the people we send off to war. It reduces Americans' "most fundamental human-rights commitments to a transaction," Weinstein argues. And hey, is there anyone more committed to transactional thinking than the current occupant of the White House? (We suppose he'd find a clever accounting trick to avoid his thousand-dollar share, while vets with PTSD have the more traditional thousand-yard stare.)

Or maybe we could REALLY honor veterans by just plain not making more of them. It's a nutty idea, but probably better than thinking a small pinch in their vacation budget would make Americans think twice about the effects of raining death from above on people halfway around the world.

Maybe if every family got an itemized bill, based on income, for its share of each bomber, guided missile frigate, and blast-related head trauma. Or for that matter, each baby jail.

[Beto O'Rourke / CNN / New Republic]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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