Bernie Sanders’ record in Congress

If you’re going to judge what a politician stands for, you’d do better to look at their advisers and supporters than their campaign rhetoric, and you’d do even better still to look at their record.

The presidential candidate Bernie Sanders served in the House of Representatives from Vermont’s at-large district from 1991 to 2007 and in the U.S. Senate from 2007 to the present, so he has a long record to go by.

Sanders has been a political independent, not a Democrat, for most of his political life, and is the only member of Congress to call himself a socialist.  The 2016 Presidential campaign is the first campaign in which he has run as a Democrat to organize Congress.

BernieSanders1_1280His congressional record seems to me to be like a 1930s New Deal Democrat.  He is a staunch defender of the New Deal programs such as Social Security, a champion of labor unions and an opponent of Wall Street.

While his voting record is favorable to abortion rights, gay rights, affirmative action and civil rights for African-Americans, he does not have a high profile on these issues as he does on bread-and-butter economic issues.

Liberals might have trouble with the fact that he was first elected to Congress as an opponent of gun control and still has reservations about gun control.


Here are some highlights of his legislative and voting record:

He founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991 and chaired it for eight years.

In 1999, he defied U.S. law on drug imports by organizing a trip to Canada with constituents to buy cancer medications at 10 percent of the U.S. cost

In 2005, he joined with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to repeal the section of the USA Patriot Act requiring librarians to give the government information on patrons’ book-borrowing.   It passed the House, but did not become law.

In 2010, he gave an eight-and-a-half hour speech against the Tax Relief, Unemployment and Job Creation Act of 2010, which extended the Bush era tax cuts.  The speech drew nationwide attention and was later published as a book.

In 2011, he successfully introduced legislation calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve System’s bank bailouts, which revealed that the Fed had granted $16 trillion dollars in assistance to troubled banks, some of their foreign banks.

Foreign and Military Policy

Sanders voted against the resolutions authorizing the use of force against Iraq in 1991.  He did favor sanctions, diplomatic pressure and the threat of force against Iraq in order to open the country to nuclear weapons inspectors, but stopped short of voting for actual war.

During the Clinton administration, he supported U.S. intervention in Somalia in 1993 and the NATO air war against Serbia in 1999.

He voted in favor of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which stated that regime change in Iraq was a goal of U.S. foreign policy.

He voted against the 2002 authorization of military force against Iraq and opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  He did vote in favor of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Force Against Terrorists, which has been cited as legal justification for the invasion of Afghanistan and other U.S. military actions.

He voted in favor of the Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006, which codified sanctions against Iran and funded opponents of the Iranian government.

He expressed reservations about military intervention in Libya, but did not support a resolution sponsored by Senator Rand Paul declaring that intervention unconstitutional.  He voted against funding of anti-Syrian rebels.

Sanders is generally regarded as a supporter of Israel.   But he declined to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress earlier this year.  He said Netanyahu improperly interfered with President Obama’s role in the Iran negotiations.

Sanders declined to sign the 2014 Senate resolution in support of Operation Protective Edge, an Israeli military operation against Palestinian Arabs in Gaza.  He said the Israeli government over-reacted, but at the same time criticized Hamas for firing missiles from “protected areas.”

Sanders supports funding for the expensive and dysfunctional F-35 fighter plane, which would be partly assembled in Vermont.

Economic Policy

Sanders opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.   He opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and most trade agreements.

He opposed repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999.  The repeal allowed investment of government-guaranteed bank deposits in the financial markets.

berniesandersIn May Sanders introduced the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist bill to break up “too big to fail” financial institutions.

In January he introduced the Rebuild America bill to spend $1 trillion on transportation infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and mass transit systems, over a five-year period.

He is a co-sponsor of  Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers’ Employ Young Americans Now bill, which would appropriate $4 billion for federal jobs programs for Americans age 16 to 24 and $1.5 billion for jobs training programs.

Sanders has introduced amendments to Senate bills that would invest money in infrastructure, to be paid for by closing loopholes in the tax system

He introduced legislation in June, 2014, to aid workers who wanted to form their own businesses or set up worker-owned cooperatives.

Sanders has introduced a Guaranteed Paid Leave Act to provide 10 days of paid vacation for employees who have worked for an employer at least one year.

He currently co-sponsors a bill that would give mothers and fathers 12 days weeks of paid leave to care for a baby.  It would also guarantee workers the same amount of time off if they are diagnosed with cancer, have other serious medical conditions or need to take care of other family members who are seriously ill.

He co-sponsored a bill that would guarantee workers at least seven paid sick days per year for short-term illness, routine medical care or care for a sick family member.

Environmental Policy

In 2007, Sanders co-sponsored the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act with Senator Barbara Boxer.  It would have provided funding for research and development on geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide, set emissions standards for new vehicles and a renewable fuels requirement for gasoline starting in 2016, established  energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standards beginning in 2008 and low-carbon generation standards for electric utilities beginning in 2016, and required periodic evaluations by the National Academy of Sciences to determine whether emissions targets are adequate.

Following the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, Sanders called for a moratorium on licensing new nuclear plants and re-licensing of existing ones.  He wrote a letter to President Obama asking for a special committee to review the safety of U.S. nuclear plants.  He also advocates cession of government-paid insurance for nuclear plants.

Civil Liberties

Sanders voted against the original USA Patriot Act and all its renewals.   He has frequently criticized warrant-less wiretapping and wrote earlier this year that the National Security Agency is out of control.

He voted in favor of against the USA Freedom Act on June 2, which would regulate and regularize NSA spying.

While in the House, he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage under federal law as being between a man and a woman.

In 1993, he voted for a National Rifle Association-backed bill to restrict lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and against the Brady Bill requiring background checks for gun buyers.

Other Issues

Sanders favors a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health insurance system.

He supports the DISCLOSE Act, which would make campaign finance more transparent and ban U.S. corporations controlled by foreign interests from making political contributions.

Sanders introduced the Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment At of 2013, which increased the disability compensation rate for American veterans and their families.

He co-sponsored with Senator John McCain the Veterans Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, a bill intended to reform the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in response to scandals in the management of Veterans Administration hospitals.

Sanders introduced the College for All Act of 2015, which would fund tuition at four-year colleges and universities for all students who meet admissions standards, to be paid for through a 50-cent tax on every $100 of trades on stock exchanges.  The bill would include a 0.5 percent speculation fee on trades by investment houses, hedge funds and other stock trades, a 0.1 percent fee on bond sales and a .005 percent fee on derivatives trades.

He voted in favor of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2013, which opened a path to citizenship for many unauthorized immigrants now in the United States.  The bill passed the Senate but was defeated in the House.


Give ‘Em Hell, Bernie by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Bernie Sanders Voting Record by VoteSmart.  A list of Sanders’ votes on key legislation.

Bernie Sanders’ Ratings and Endorsements by VoteSmart.  Judgments of his voting record by various interest and advocacy groups.

Bernie Sanders Wikipedia page.

The right-wing political record of Bernie Sanders by Tom Hall for the World Socialist Web Site.

Bernie Sanders: the Ron Paul of the Left? (not quite) by Justin Raimondo for

In Defense of Bernie Sanders by Alex Shepard for Daily Kos.

Bernie and the Search for New Politics by Adam Hilton for Jacobin.


Are there any important votes or bills I missed?  Please let me know.

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4 Responses to “Bernie Sanders’ record in Congress”

  1. Jenna Says:

    12 days paid leave for babies and cancer or 12 weeks? 12 days doesn’t seem good


  2. marcelo Says:


  3. The Case for Bernie Sanders Says:

    […] with Congress. Thus, Senator Sanders has a 25 year history of productively working within Congress. This is a list of some of his most important […]


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