Presidential candidate and political heartthrob Beto O’Rourke famously said he doesn’t know if he’s a progressive. In some comments he made in 2012, he actually sounded like a bit like a Republican.

O’Rourke often voted against his Democratic colleagues while he served in the House of Representatives and where he stands on major 2020 issues remains at best unclear. But comments discovered in a CNN KFile investigation of O’Rourke paint him to the right wing of the Democratic field.

When O’Rourke unseated Democratic incumbent Silvestre Reyes for the Texas 16th Congressional District, the primary fight he waged was largely a fight about fiscal policy. O’Rourke blasted Reyes for not getting specific on what government programs to cut in the face of a rising deficit.

Beto O’Rourke called for “significant” cuts to “extravagant government” and “out of control” debt.

Specifically, O’Rourke called for possible means-testing or raising of the retirement age for Social Security, but only for those not currently collecting or soon-to-collect. He also wanted cuts to address issues beyond just the problem of Social Security solvency.

“There are certainly places in the federal budget where we have to look at reorganizing, where we have to look at cutting,” he said. “You have a $16 trillion debt. We’re running $1 trillion annual deficits and we cannot continue to spend ourselves into ruin. We need to elect people who are gonna go up there and make some tough choices.”

O’Rourke also called for means-testing for Medicare, drastic cuts to both domestic and military spending and some tightening of tax loopholes as part of a dramatic effort to rein in debts and deficits.

Those realities haven’t changed for the better since 2012. In February, the national debt broke its record surpassing $22 trillion, with the $1 trillion in deficits that worried 2012 O’Rourke expected to continue through 2022. This fiscal reality has even beneficiaries of the tax cuts that helped create it worried.

Though O’Rourke hasn’t been talking about his fiscal policy going into 2020, the message is still carried — by Republicans.

Though Trump’s proposed investment cuts are met with actually increasing the deficit, the general Republican line remains that deficits must be tackled, and they call for the same kind of response that O’Rourke called for in 2012: cuts. Cuts to programs like healthcare and Social Security that were explicitly supported by O’Rourke.

It would be fair to note that the alternative method of addressing deficits, raising taxes, remains cast as a progressive policy championed by people like New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, although some of the highest marginal tax rates were imposed under Republican presidents and a majority of Americans actually support a higher marginal tax rate.

Like a lot of his policies, it’s hard to say where Beto stands on taxes and investments today, but at least in 2012 he was more interested in what to cut.


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.

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