News Release

Sanders’ Legislative Record: “Amendment King” and Left-Right Alliances

A regular accusation from more establishment candidates of Sen. Bernie Sanders is that he is rigid and doesn’t get practical legislation done. This view is seriously contested by some who have followed his career most closely.

GREG GUMA, mavmedia at aol.com
Available for select media interviews, Guma has been interviewed by the Jacobin, the Washington Post and a host of other media about Sanders, who he first met in 1971. Guma is author of several books include The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution. His latest book is Green Mountain Politics: Restless Spirits, Popular Movements. His most recent pieces for VTDigger.org about his decades-long relationship with Sanders include “Through the years with Bernie Sanders” and “Poisoned Press: The original plot to stop Bernie Sanders … and why it didn’t work.”

He said today: “Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric has always been righteous, radical and unequivocal — a class-based battle between the people and the one percent. Yet, as a Burlington mayor in the 1980s and Vermont’s only congressman for 16 years, before moving on to the U.S. Senate, he quickly learned the necessity and effectiveness of forming alliances, particularly with unexpected partners.

“In Burlington, he sometimes worked with Republican members of the City Council, who were ready to be more cooperative than many of the Democrats his victory had displaced. He even made peace with major developers like Antonio Pomerleau, whom he had attacked during his first mayoral race.

“In Congress he became known as the ‘amendment king,’ passing more amendments than any other member of Congress during his years in the House of Representatives. That impressive record, somehow ignored by the same politicians and pundits who decry a lack of bipartisan cooperation, began with an amendment to launch a National Program of Cancer registries, now maintained by every state. In 2001, he successfully passed an amendment to the appropriations bill banning the import of goods made with child labor, as well as an amendment to increase funding for community health centers by $100 million.

“As an Independent in Congress, many of Bernie Sanders’ legislative successes came through forging deals with conservatives. An amendment to bar spending in support of defense contractor mergers, for example, was pushed through with the aid of Chris Smith, a prominent opponent of abortion. John Kasich (later Ohio governor and presidential candidate) helped him phase out risk insurance for foreign investments. Their views on welfare, the minimum wage and foreign policy could hardly have been more different. A ‘left-right coalition’ he helped to create also derailed ‘fast track’ legislation on international agreements pushed by Bill Clinton, one of the many sources of tension between Sanders and the Democratic Leadership Council wing of the party.

“During the 1990s, Sanders and libertarian Republican Ron Paul also joined forces at times. Later, the godfather of the Tea Party movement and the junior Senator from the People’s Republic of Vermont teamed up to propose military budget cuts and push for more oversight of the Federal Reserve. The impact of Bernie’s legislative strategy was clearly felt in May 2010 when his campaign to bring transparency to the Federal Reserve resulted in a 96-0 Senate vote on his amendment to audit the Fed and conduct a General Accounting Office audit of possible conflicts of interest in loans to unknown banks.

“In 2014, Sanders struck a deal with John McCain on legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand veterans’ access to health care and make it easier to fire VA officials for misconduct. During the floor debate, McCain remarked, ‘I respect the fact that Bernie Sanders is known as a fighter, and it’s been a pleasure to do combat with him.’ And Sanders acknowledged  that ‘reaching a compromise among people who look at the world very differently is not easy,’ yet he and McCain had ‘tried our best.’ Five days later, the Senate passed the Sanders-McCain bill 93-3.

“When I asked Sanders about his approach during a wide-ranging interview in early 1999, he criticized the urge to ‘moralize and be virtuous and not talk to anybody.’ While acknowledging that it felt odd at times having ultra-conservatives as political allies, he argued that ‘the job is to pass legislation — and I say that in a positive sense — so you seize the opportunity to make things happen.’

“Contrary to the firebrand image he forged over the years, he argued that a key part of his job was to understand the constraints of politics and ‘do the best you can with the powers you have. You don’t just stand on a street corner giving a speech.'”