Taxpayer's Tab: Bernie Sanders' Legislative Record Reveals $1 Trillion in New Spending

Bernie Sanders is a self-described Democratic Socialist representing the state of Vermont in the U.S. Senate. He has a long history of public service, having first been elected Mayor of Burlington in 1980 and winning three more terms after that. From 1991 to 2007 he was Vermont’s Representative-at-large in the House, and has served in the Senate since then. While he is officially an independent, Senator Sanders caucuses with the Democratic Party for committee assignment purposes and is currently the ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee.

Hillary Clinton is still the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, but Sanders has been second in many polls conducted in early primary states. In New Hampshire, specifically, some polls show that he is within 10 percentage points of Clinton (who won that state’s Democratic vote in 2008).

Senator Sanders has a reputation for advocating a progressive agenda, but what might that mean for the federal budget – and the taxpayers who fund it? Every year lawmakers write and vote on legislation that collectively impacts trillions of dollars’ worth of spending, and the policies they do (or do not) support offer insight into the priorities they hold regarding a wide range of issues.

NTU Foundation has been analyzing Members’ records on budgetary issues since 1991 in the form of our BillTally project. BillTally is a unique cost accounting system that computes a “net annual agenda” for each Member of Congress. The results are based on each Senator’s or Representative’s individual sponsorship or co-sponsorship of pending legislation, and provide an in-depth look at the fiscal behavior of lawmakers, free from the influence of committees, party leaders, and rules surrounding floor votes. All cost estimates for bills are obtained from third-party sources or are calculated from neutral data.

Previously we have featured analyses of Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio. Below are Senator Sanders’ BillTally data.
Net Cost of Legislation Sponsored or Cosponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders
(Dollar Figures in Millions)
CongressBills to IncreaseBills to DecreaseNet Spending AgendaAverage (D) Senator# of Increase Bills# of Decrease Bills
Source: National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s BillTally Program

The table above shows the costs of the legislation (in millions of dollars) backed by Sanders each year in the Senate. The figures within each individual Congress exclude overlapping measures so that duplicate items are not double-counted.

  • Senator Sanders has sponsored legislation that would, on average, increase federal spending by $1.01 trillion per year and reduce it by about $6.7 billion per year.
  • Since the 111th Congress, Sanders has supported legislative agendas that would increase federal spending by a net average of just over $1 trillion. That is more than 17 times higher than what the average Democratic Senator proposed in the same time.
  • The Senator has repeatedly supported legislation that would establish a federally-administered universal health care system. Most recently he sponsored S. 1782, which would cost about $4.12 trillion over the next five years, or $824 billion annually. That bill was the second most expensive legislation that NTU Foundation scored in the previous Congress.
  • Sanders is also an outspoken proponent of imposing taxes and fees on carbon emissions. His Climate Protection Act of 2013 would have spent $20.5 billion per year in such revenue on transportation infrastructure improvements.
  • The largest spending cut that Sanders has supported while in the Senate is the Medicare Drug Savings Act, which would require pharmaceutical companies to pay rebates to the federal government on drugs used by enrollees eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. The most recent version, introduced in 2013, would have saved $8.7 billion per year.

For more on BillTally and to keep up with our analyses of the 2016 Presidential candidates’ campaigns, head to NTU Foundation’s website. You can also follow us on Twitter (@NTUF) for the latest updates.

National Taxpayers Union Foundation is a nonpartisan research and educational organization dedicated to helping Americans of all ages understand how taxes, government spending, and regulations affect them. Through our timely information, analysis, and commentary, we’re empowering citizens to engage in important policy debates and hold officials accountable.

Our findings are provided for educational purposes only and are not intended to aid or hinder the passage of legislation or as a comment on any Member’s or Candidate's fitness to serve.