A progressive who gets progressive things done.
The “Amendment King” was among the most productive, effective members of congress despite serving primarily in republican majorities. Bernie Sanders used relentless action, bipartisan coalitions, and smart strategy to pass the most amendments of any congressperson in his era.
Detractors falsely stereotype Bernie as a no-compromise idealist. This plays on the lazy right-wing stereotype of progressives as more interested in ideological purity than progress. That narrative is completely false.
His accomplishments were not trivial, but exclusively progressive legislation that won important benefits for the vulnerable. These are just a few of his amendments that became law. Short image: Bernie Sanders is a progressive who actually gets PROGRESSIVE things done.
Bernie crawled through a river of filth and came out clean. This is a must read article on the shockingly callous behavior of congress. Despite this horror show, in which even decent politicians eventually relent and become corrupted, he continued to fight for the right thing every day, against overwhelming opposition, to accomplish an impeccable record of progressive legislation that has helped Americans. He never gave in to the temptation of big money despite having to run against republican AND democratic opponents in his early elections. This particular article is not about his successes, but establishes just how hard he fought. These are a few of the amendments he could not get through congress. There were many he did, as you can see in the other links.
This article describes Sanders’ techniques. It is the same one the New York times later edited to add completely subjective insults and minimizing language.
This is a list of every substantive bill and amendment Sanders sponsored from the floor of Congress that became law (substantive meaning legislation renaming post offices is not included). It omits the amendments he passed with majority approval — like limiting the federal government’s ability to spy on people’s library records — but were removed from bills when the House and Senate negotiated over the final legislative text and did not become law.
Infographic on a few impressive numbers accomplished during his career.
Over the years, Sanders has tucked away funding for health centers in appropriation bills signed by George W. Bush, into Barack Obama’s stimulus program, and through the earmarking process. But his biggest achievement came in 2010 through the Affordable Care Act. In a series of high-stakes legislative maneuvers, Sanders struck a deal to include $11 billion for health clinics in the law.
This extended the number of people served by clinics from 18 million before the ACA to an expected 28 million next year.
Sanders was also instrumental in getting the ACA, “Obamacare,” through congress.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., tapped Sanders to help win support from liberals who thought the bill was too weak as well as from Democrats from rural states who were facing mounting pressure. More funding for community health centers, Sanders argued, was a win-win solution for both camps, since the program would ensure access to health care for even the most remote areas of the country while also helping those without insurance.
The following is a list of every substantive bill and amendment Sanders sponsored from the floor of Congress that became law (substantive meaning legislation renaming post offices is not included). Many of the roll-call amendments he passed with majority approval — like limiting the federal government’s ability to spy on people’s library records — were removed from bills when the House and Senate negotiated over the final legislative text and did not become law.
Because the list is derived from Congress’ official database of floor actions, it does not include achievements like his insertion of funding for veterans health care into an Iraq war spending bill because that occurred off of the House floor while the bill was in conference. Nor does the list include what is perhaps his most significant achievement — providing health care to an additional 10 million mostly low-income Americans by getting Senate majority leader Harry Reid to add $11 billion in funding for community health centers that provide care regardless of a person’s ability to pay to the 2010 Affordable Care Act in exchange for Sanders rallying liberal Democrats who were considering voting against the bill once conservative Democrats removed the public option.
102nd Congress — 1991-1992
- Authorize grants or contracts to operate population-based, statewide cancer registries in order to collect certain data for each form of in-situ and invasive cancer except basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Authorizes grants for planning the registries. Mandates a study on factors contributing to elevated rates of breast cancer mortality in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services, directly or through grants and contracts, or both, to provide technical assistance to the States in the establishment and operation of statewide registries. H.R.4206 (Cancer Registries Amendment Act) enacted as S. 3312 (Cancer Registries Amendment Act).
103rd Congress — 1993-1994
104th Congress — 1995-1996
- Require offenders who are convicted of fraud and other white collar crime to give appropriate notice to victims and other persons in cases where there are multiple victims eligible to receive restitution. H.Amdt. 98 to H.R. 665 (Victims of Justice Act of 1995)
- The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs should emphasize minimizing the burden on small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. H.Amdt. 210 to H.R. 830 (Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995)
- Increase funding for the Court of Veterans Appeals by $1.4 million and reduce funding for Housing and Urban Development salaries and expenses by $1.4 million. H.Amdt. 1203 to H.R. 3666 Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 1997
- Congress consents to the Vermont-New Hampshire Interstate Public Water Supply Compact to erect and maintain joint public water supply facilities. H.J.Res.129 enacted as S.J.Res.38 (A joint resolution granting the consent of Congress to the Vermont-New Hampshire Interstate Public Water Supply Compact)
105th Congress — 1997-1998
- Congress declares that Ngawang Choephel and other prisoners of conscience in Tibet, as well as in China, should be released immediately, and that the U.S. government should seek access for internationally recognized human rights groups to monitor human rights in Tibet. H.Amdt.174 to H.R.1757 (Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998)
- Increase funding for the Meals on Wheels program by $5 million and reduce funding for the Food and Drug Administration by $5.5 million. H.Amdt.267 to H.R.2160 (Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1998)
- Amendment increases funding for the National Guard Starbase program by $2 million. Funding for the increase would be offset by reducing funds comensurately from the NATO Joint Stars program. H.Amdt.289 to H.R.2266 (Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 1998)
- Prohibit funds for the U.S. Customs Office from being used to allow the importation into the U.S. any material mined, produced, or manufactured by forced or indentured child labor. H.Amdt.368 to H.R.2378 (Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, 1998)
- Increase funding for the office of the U.S. Trade Representative by $1 million and reduce funding for general administrative expenses within the Department of Commerce commensurately. H.Amdt.388 to H.R.2267 (Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1998)
- Encourage lower higher education costs by giving the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education — which administers a competitive grant program for higher education institutions — a broader mission and allow it to make competitive grants available to institutions that cooperate and reduce costs through the joint purchase of goods and services. H.Amdt.569 to H.R.6 (Higher Education Amendments of 1998)
- Reduce the intelligence budget for fiscal year 1999 by 5% with an exemption for the CIA Retirement and Disability Fund. H.Amdt.614 to H.R.3694 (Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999)
- Require the Comptroller General to report to Congress regarding the efficacy and benefits of uniformly limiting any commissions, fees, markups, or other costs incurred by customers in the acquisition of financial products. H.Amdt.626 to H.R.10 (Financial Services Act of 1998)
- Increase funding for nutrition programs for senior citizens by $10 million. H.Amdt.706 to H.R.4101 (Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1999)
- Prohibit funding to be used to enter into or renew a contract with any company owned, or partially owned, by the People’s Republic of China or the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China. H.Amdt.708 to H.R.4103 (Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 1999)
- $2 million appropriated to the National Archives and Records Administration for the National Personnel Records Center for modernization of its records management system. H.Amdt.724 to H.R.4104 (Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, 1999) enacted as H.R. 2490 (Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, 2000)
106th Congress — 1999-2000
- Reduce the appropriation for the Agricultural Research Service by $13 million and to increase the appropriation for the commodity assistance program by $10 million. H.Amdt.127 to H.R.1906 (Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2000)
- Provide $1 million for a national pilot program to promote agritourism. H.Amdt.136 to H.R.1906 (Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2000)
- Increase Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding by $20 million; provides $30 million for deficit reduction; and reduces fossil energy research and development funding by $50 million. H.Amdt.258 to H.R.2466 (Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2000) enacted as H.R.3194 (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2000)
- Increase funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program by $13 million and reduces Strategic Petroleum Reserve funding accordingly. H.Amdt.270 to H.R.2466 (Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2000) enacted as H.R.3194 ( Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2000)
- At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following new section: RURAL VETERANS HEALTH CARE SERVICES SEC. . The house supports efforts to implement improvements in health care services for veterans in rural areas. H.Amdt.442 to H.R.2684 (Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2000)
- Prohibit the use of National Institutes of Health funding to grant an exclusive or partially exclusive license pursuant to chapter 18 of title 35, USC, except in accordance with section 209 of such title (relating to the availability to the public of an invention and its benefits on reasonable terms). H.Amdt.791 to H.R.4577 (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2001)
- Increase funding for weatherization assistance and energy conservation programs by $45 million and reduce fossil fuel energy research and development programs accordingly. H.Amdt.818 to H.R.4578 (Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2001)
107th Congress — 2001-2002
- Prohibit the importation of goods on which the United States Customs Service has issued a detention order on the basis that such goods were made by forced or indentured child labor. H.Amdt.238 to H.R.2590 (Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, 2002)
- Prohibit use of funds in the bill giving an exclusive or partially exclusive licenses to pharmaceutical companies pursuant to chapter 18, U.S.C., relating to the availability to the public of an invention and its benefits on reasonable terms. H.Amdt.376 to H.R.3061 (Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2002)
- Provide $100 million for federally qualified community health centers. H.Amdt.404 to H.R.3338 (Department of Defense and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Recovery from and Response to Terrorist Attacks on the United States Act, 2002)
108th Congress — 2003-2004
- Increase funding for weatherization assistance grants by $15 million with offsets from other energy conservation activities. H.Amdt.255 to H.R.2691 (Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004)
- Prohibit the use of funds in the bill to implement any policy prohibiting the Directors of the Veterans Integrated Service Networks from conducting outreach or marketing to enroll new veterans within their respective networks. H.Amdt.336 to H.R.2861 (Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004) enacted as H.R.2673 (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2004)
109th Congress — 2005-2006
110th Congress — 2007-2008
- Provide $242 million for the weatherization assistance program. S.Amdt.737 to H.R.1591 (U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007)
- Establish an energy efficiency and renewable energy worker training program. S.Amdt.1515 to H.R.6 (Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007)
- Require that not less than 30% of the hot water demand for certain new or substantially modified Federal buildings be met through the installation and use of solar hot water heaters. S.Amdt.1525 to H.R.6 (Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007)
- Increase specially adapted housing benefits for disabled veterans. S.Amdt.4384 to H.R.3221 (Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008)
111th Congress — 2009-2010
- Require the Comptroller General of the United States to report to Congress on financial assistance for child care available to deployed members of the reserve components of the Armed Forces. S.Amdt.1658 to S.1390 (National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010)
- Increase funds for the school community garden pilot program by $2.5 million, with an offset. S.Amdt.2271 to H.R.2997 (Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010)
- Make available $20 million for veteran outreach and reintegration services under the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program from the from Overseas Contingency Operations budget. S.Amdt.2601 to H.R.3326 (Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010)
- Require the non-partisan Government Accountability Office to conduct an independent audit of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System that does not interfere with monetary policy, to let the American people know the names of the recipients of over $2 trillion in taxpayer assistance from the Federal Reserve System, and for other purposes. S.Amdt.3738 to S.3217 (Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010)
- Require recipients of TARP funding to meet strict H-1B worker hiring standard to ensure non-displacement of U.S. workers. S.Amdt.306 to H.R.1 (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009)
- Require the Comptroller General of the United States to report to Congress on financial assistance for child care available to deployed members of the reserve components of the Armed Forces. S.Amdt.1658 to S.1390 (National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010)
- Require the Administrator of the General Services to make publicly available the contractor integrity performance database established under the Clean Contracting Act of 2008. S.Amdt.4280 to H.R.4899 (Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010)
112th Congress — 2011-2012
113th Congress — 2013-2014
- VA reform bill expands health care facilities, allows veterans to go outside the VA system to private health care providers when wait times are too long or if a veteran lives more than 40 miles away from a VA facility, and makes it easier to fire VA officials. S.2450 (Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014) enacted as H.R.3230 (Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014)
- Directs the Secretary of the VA to increase, as of December 1, 2013, the rates of veterans’ disability compensation, additional compensation for dependents, the clothing allowance for certain disabled veterans, and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. Requires each such increase to be the same percentage as the increase in benefits provided under title II (Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance) of the Social Security Act, on the same effective date. S.893 (Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013)
- Modify the authority of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs or Secretary of the Army over interring the remains and honoring the memory of a person in a national cemetery. S.Amdt.2146 to S.1471 (Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act)
114th Congress — 2015-2016
- None as of this writing (11/9/15).
Can Sanders translate his time as an effective legislator into an effective presidency? After all, a legislative job is different than an executive job. His mayoral record is arguably even more impressive.
During the course of his terms as the mayor of Burlington, voter turnout doubled. He rejuvenated a city that was considered by many to be dying, laying out progressive policies that cities around the country later adopted, and he did all this without particularly alienating Republicans. As one former GOP Alderman noted, he implemented ideas from the Republican party that he felt were not particularly harmful to working people, such as more efficient accounting practices. Burlington was later rated the second best place to live in America.
Bernie took every avenue for practical progress, conventional and unconventional. He encouraged grassroots organizing, adopted local laws to protect the vulnerable, challenged and eventually won over the city’s business power brokers, and worked collaboratively with other politicians.
Burlington was no hippie counterculture enclave. Although the city attracted many young, educated people because of its natural beauty and the presence of the University of Vermont, it has always had a large working-class population who, until Sanders came on the scene, tended to vote for moderate Democrats and Republicans. Each time he ran for mayor, Sanders attracted increasing support from the city’s blue-collar precincts.
Not me. Us. In the 1970s and ’80s, Sanders was one of a handful of mayors to use the levers of local government to adopt enlightened progressive policies. More than in any other city, Burlington’s progressives consolidated those reforms over the long haul. The coalition that coalesced around Sanders in 1981 governed Burlington for all but two of the next 31 years.
Thanks to the enduring influence of the progressive climate that Sanders and his allies helped to create in Burlington, the city’s largest housing development is now resident-owned, its largest supermarket is a consumer-owned cooperative, one of its largest private employers is worker-owned, and most of its people-oriented waterfront is publicly owned. Burlington became the first American city to run entirely on renewable electricity.
Most of Burlington’s business leaders initially distrusted Sanders, but many of Sanders’s early opponents came to respect and even admire his willingness to listen to their views and his successful economic development.
- With the support of Republicans and business leaders, he created the Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) to carry out his vision for more affordable housing, more locally owned small businesses, greater community engagement in planning, and job development. CEDO director Michael Monte: “Bernie was never anti-growth, anti-development, or anti-business. He just wanted businesses to be responsible toward their employees and the community. He wanted local entrepreneurs to thrive. He wanted people to have good jobs that pay a living wage.”
- The Sanders administration provided new firms with seed funding, offered technical assistance, helped businesses form trade associations, focused attention on helping women become entrepreneurs, funded training programs to give women access to nontraditional jobs, and lobbied the state government to promote business growth.
- Burlington had no supermarket in the downtown area. The major grocery chains told city officials that they would invest in a new store only if they could build a mega-market that residents believed was too large. Instead, the Sanders administration put its hopes in the local Onion River Cooperative. With 2,000 members in its former location, some thought it was a risky venture. It turned out to be a good investment, and under Sanders’s successor it became City Market, a thriving enterprise with more than 9,000 members.
- Under Sanders, Burlington became a magnet for attracting and incubating locally owned businesses, many of which expanded into large enterprises. Burton, America’s largest snowboard company, has its headquarters (and snowboard museum) in Burlington. The city assisted Seventh Generation, a green cleaning-products firm, when it started in 1988. Today, with its downtown waterfront headquarters in a LEED-certified building and over $300 million in annual sales, it is one of Burlington’s largest employers With the city’s help, Gardeners Supply Company, which sells environmentally friendly gardening products, moved to Burlington in 1983. Four years later, its founder, Will Raap, began the process of selling the firm to its workers. It now has over 250 employee-owners.
- As Gardeners Supply transitioned to employee ownership, Raap organized volunteers to clean up a largely derelict floodplain north of the store. Eventually CEDO, Sanders’s development agency, helped arrange the purchase of the area and provided the capital for irrigation systems, farm vehicles, and washing stations for vegetables. By the end of the 1990s, it was home to a dozen urban farms, annually producing over 500,000 pounds of food for local homes and stores. It now generates over 10% of the food sold in Burlington.
- Sanders developed a “people’s waterfront.” Burlington’s Lake Champlain waterfront was an industrial wasteland. Tony Pomerleau, an influential local businessman, planned a luxury mega-project. Monte: “Bernie wanted to make sure that it was a place with plenty of open space and public access, where ordinary people could rent a rowboat and buy a hot dog. That wasn’t just for the elite. It was Bernie who set the tone that the waterfront wasn’t for sale.” The Burlington waterfront now has a community boathouse, sailing center, science center, fishing pier, eight-mile bike path, acres of parkland, and public beaches. On May 26, Sanders kicked off his presidential campaign with a rally at Waterfront Park.
- Pomerleau, a longtime Republican, made his money developing supermarkets, hotels, and shopping centers. For decades, he wielded considerable political influence and chaired the police commission. “When [Sanders] first ran for mayor, he was running against guys like me.” He voted against Sanders in 1981 and knocked on his door the day after that election. “I said, ‘You’re the mayor, but it’s still my town.’” Pomerleau wasn’t happy when Sanders opposed his waterfront plan, but he gradually got to know the mayor and admire his pragmatism, his bulldog tenacity to get things done, and his support for the local police. “Bernie and I worked very well together for the betterment of the town. We were the odd couple.” Pomerleau voted for Sanders in his three mayoral re-elections, and Sanders frequently called Pomerleau to ask his advice. They stayed in close contact, even after Sanders was elected to Congress.
Burlington’s strong economic and population growth could have displaced low- and middle-income families. Under Sanders, the city adopted policies to create permanently affordable housing.
- The city channeled a large portion of its federal block grant funds to nonprofits committed to that goal, and cultivated a constituency of these small development organizations. The first key move was support for the Burlington Community Land Trust with an initial $200,000 grant. Now named the Champlain Housing Trust, the nonprofit has over $290 million in assets; manages a portfolio of 2,800 price-controlled houses, condos, co-ops, and rentals; and owns over 120,000 square feet of commercial space and nonprofit facilities.
- To provide funding for new housing initiatives, the Sanders-led city created a housing trust fund, capitalized in part by a 1 percent increase in property taxes. A year after Sanders left office, the coalition he built successfully pushed the City Council to enact an inclusionary zoning law. Market-rate residential projects were required to set aside 10–25 percent of the units at rents and prices affordable to families with modest incomes and to keep them affordable for 99 years.
- The Sanders administration carefully nurtured neighborhood planning assemblies (NPA) in each of the city’s six wards, providing them with modest budgets to deliberate and advise on projects affecting their neighborhoods. The NPAs had a voice over the use of federal Community Development Block Grant funds in their neighborhoods. Today, Burlingtonians credit the NPAs with raising the level of resident participation and discussion in local politics.
- “Bernie pounded his fist on the conference table in his office and told the owners, ‘Over my dead body are you going to displace 336 working families. You are not going to convert Northgate into luxury housing.’” John Davis, a key housing aide, remembers a meeting in 1986 Bernie confronted the owners of the city’s largest affordable-housing complex. The federal program that had subsidized the Northgate Apartments for 20 years had a loophole that allowed the landlords to convert the buildings into market rentals or luxury condos.Under Sanders’s leadership, the city adopted a number of laws to protect residents. One ordinance required apartment owners to give residents two years’ notice before a condo conversion. Others gave residents a pre-emptive right to buy the units and prohibited landlords from bulldozing buildings unless they replaced them with the same number of affordable units. (These measures lowered the selling price of the property.) Sanders then worked with the state government and Senator Patrick Leahy to get the $12 million needed to purchase and rehabilitate the buildings. The city allocated funds to help the tenants hire an organizer, form the Northgate Residents Association, and start the process of converting the complex to resident ownership. Today, Northgate Apartments is owned by the tenants and has long-term regulations to keep the buildings affordable for working families.
Burlington is now widely heralded as an environmentally friendly, lively, and livable city with a thriving economy, including one of the lowest jobless rates in the country. Burlingtonians give Sanders credit for steering the city in a new direction that, despite early skepticism, proved to be broadly popular with voters.
A growing number of cities—including Seattle, New York, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Newark, and others—are now led by progressive mayors. They are adopting municipal minimum wage laws, requiring developers to build mixed-income housing, strengthening regulations against corporate polluters, and enacting other policies to address the nation’s growing economic inequality and environmental crises.
What they can learn from Sanders’ success is that good ideas are not sufficient. Creating more livable cities requires nurturing a core of activist organizations that can build long-term support for progressive municipal policies.