Bernie Sanders has been the Senator from Vermont since 2007 and was the sole Representative of Vermont from 1991 until he became a Senator. In this time period he has voted on many important bills that have effected the United States, and I am going to here analyze his record by looking at the rolls of important bills since 1991 that he has had a chance to vote on.
- Civil Rights Act of 1991: Yea
- Motor Votor Act: Yea
- NAFTA: Nay (more detail below)
- Digital Millenium Copyright Act and Sonny Bono Copyright Act: Unknown
- Gramm-Leach-Bliley: Nay
- No Child Left Behind Act: Yea (see below)
- PATRIOT ACT: Nay
- Closing Guantanamo Bay: NAY, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/111-2009/s196
NAFTA was the first vote where he voted against the working class. This is because it shuts down the demand for high-value added professions. My earlier blog post on the details of NAFTA goes into depth on why Bernie Sanders made a mistake on this.
He voted for the No Child Left Behind Act which limits funds to public schools unless if they go through regulations which pulls money from productive activities and wastes class time.
He voted against the closure of Guantanamo Bay, creating an extra hurdle to block what he had been calling for for years beforehand.
Most of his votes as we can see from his record are in line with what he claims, but when it comes to the most important bills of the last 23 years there are a few major issues where his walk and his talk are not in line. Generally though he has been one of the better members of Congress in terms of his honesty.
The biggest problem of all of course comes from his current discussions regarding Obama's presidency which make me lose most of his respect for him. He is talking about how Obama has betrayed the American people with the tax reform packages, such as the 2010 Tax Relief and how bankers have not been sent to jail.
It is true that most speeches are meant to please the base of a politician but this is unusually so. The Affordable Care Act and Obama's first act as President, to close Guantanamo Bay, when they left his desk to go to Congress as proposals were very progressive. The ACA was deeply modeled after the German Health Care System which functions as Universal Health Care, and closing GITMO's prison is one of the biggest embarrassments of this country today. However, the ACA was watered down significantly by Congress and the closing of GITMO's prison was blocked completely. The bill that was sent to the President included it as one line and if the President was going to send the bill back to Congress where over 80 Democrats in the Senate voted on passage the military would have been unfunded and it is highly unlikely that these Democrats would have passed the bill. We don't have a line-item veto in this country so this also prevents the President from sending particular parts of the bill back to Congress which is a flaw. When we consider the situation the President is in with his own party tearing apart the legislation they say they support on the campaign trail the President doesn't have much he can do. Instead of ripping on the President who can't choose which parts of the bills he supports and which he doesn't, Bernie Sanders should tear into his opponents in Congress who are blocking the actions the President passes and proposes who are preventing him from acting. This would be an honest response and focus on where the real problem lies, and he is being dishonest to his supports when he blames the wrong branch of government, even though he is usually one of the good guys.
There are three ways to fix the bundling of legislation, requiring bills to stay to a single subject which is problematic because many issues are interconnected and telling which things are and are not connected are subject to interpretation. Another potential is to have a word limit on how long bills will be, but since large programs can't be written in 250 characters are less this would be more problematic. The final solution is to have a line-item veto, and this is actually a very reasonable proposal.
Requiring the President to pass the whole bill or only part of it frequently puts him into a Prisoner's dilemma where he can either vote for the whole bill or none of it which means he frequently gets blame that he doesn't deserve and can easily have his reputation damaged when Congress passes him bills which he would oppose lumped in with bills that he is forced to sign. This will save the President from being blamed for things that he doesn't want to do but is effectively being forced to, giving him the ability to always do what he believes to be right ending any question of where he stands. Some of President Obama's most controversial actions on the left (GITMO, wiretapping by the NSA) are due to being bundled with things that are necessary. These problems will be fixed by a line-item veto. However, it isn't a cure all since the government's failure to expand AMTRAK as proposed is due to Congress not providing him funding, A line-item veto won't fix the entire problem, but it is a step to getting a government that is less confusing to the masses and is easier for people to point the finger at the people who are truly causing the problem, and it is a big step forward.
Example of his current speeches: http://billmoyers.com/segment/bernie-sanders-on-the-independent-in-politics/