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Bernie Sanders

Senator from Vermont
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Sanders, an independent, is back after waging an unsuccessful challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016 with a democratic socialist platform that included free college tuition. His positions on those issues have driven the policy debate within the Democratic Party ever since. He was elected to the Senate in 2006 and was previously in the House for 16 years.
University of Chicago, B.A. (1964)
September 8, 1941
Jane Sanders; divorced from Deborah Shiling
Levi (son with Susan Mott)
Heather, Carina and David
Congressman from Vermont, 1991-2007;
Mayor of Burlington, 1981-1989
National Polling
Quinnipiac Univ.
Updated 01/13/20
Updated 01/10/20
Updated 12/20/19
The cost of Sanders' agenda -- possibly $60 trillion -- would set a peacetime US record
Updated 10:07 PM ET, Fri Jan 17, 2020
While the new spending programs Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed in his presidential campaign would at least double federal spending over the next decade, he has provided little detail about how he would implement or finance such a massive increase. The Vermont independent's agenda represents an expansion of government's cost and size unprecedented since World War II, according to estimates from his own website and projections by a wide variety of fiscal experts. Sanders' plan, though all of its costs cannot be precisely quantified, would increase government spending as a share of the economy far more than the New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt, the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson or the agenda proposed by any recent Democratic presidential nominee, including liberal George McGovern in 1972, according to a historical analysis shared with CNN by Larry Summers, the former chief White House economic adviser for Barack Obama and treasury secretary for Bill Clinton. Sanders' plan would also increase the size of government far more than any modern Republican president, including Ronald Reagan, has sought to cut it, Summers' analysis concluded. "On the spending side, ... this is far more radical than all previous presidencies, on either the right or the left," Summers said in an interview. "The Sanders spending increase is roughly 2.5 times the size of the New Deal and the estimated fiscal impact of George McGovern's campaign proposals. This is six times as large of a growth of government than any of the Ronald Reagan dismemberments. We are in a kind of new era of radical proposal." Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonprofit group that advocates reducing federal deficits, also says Sanders' agenda would at least double federal spending. "We are literally talking about increases in government spending that would double the size of government as a share of gross domestic product," says MacGuineas, whose group is completing a detailed analysis of the Democratic candidates' agendas. She added: "It is remarkable how little attention such a huge change has gotten." Exact cost projections on all of Sanders' proposals aren't available, in part because he hasn't fully fleshed out some of the ideas he's embraced (such as universal pre-K and child care). But a wide variety of estimates put the likely cost of the single-payer health care plan he has endorsed around $30 trillion or more over the next decade. Depending on the estimates used, including projections from his own campaign, the other elements of the Sanders agenda -- ranging from his "Green New Deal" to the cancellation of all student debt to a guaranteed federal jobs program that has received almost no scrutiny -- could cost about as much, or even more than, the single-payer plan. That would potentially bring his 10-year total for new spending to around $60 trillion, or more. By comparison, the Congressional Budget Office projects that over the next decade the federal government will spend almost exactly $52 trillion on all existing programs, from the Defense Department to Social Security and Medicare. (Washington will spend nearly another $6 trillion on interest payments on the federal debt, bringing total projected federal expenditures to just under $58 trillion for the next 10 years.) Grading on a curve? "I think if the price tag for the Sanders agenda was [better] known ... voters would blanch -- even Democratic primary voters would blanch," said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic group. "The truth of the matter is in primary elections both in 2016 and so far in this one, he's allowed to skate. He gets graded on a curve. But if he were the nominee, the curve is over. The Republicans will spend a billion dollars picking apart every one of his plans." CNN correspondent Abby Phillip asked Sanders about the estimates that his agenda would at least double spending at Tuesday's debate in Iowa, co-sponsored by CNN and The Des Moines Register. In response, he only made a case for his single-payer health care plan and did not address the larger question of financing such an increase in government spending beyond insisting, "Our plan wouldn't bankrupt the country. And, in fact, it would much improve the well-being of working-class families and the middle class." Multiple officials at Sanders' campaign did not respond to requests for comments on the scope of his agenda or their own estimates of its cost. In an interview earlier this year, one top Sanders aide said the candidate's proposed cumulative increase in government's size "is not something we are discussing in the scope of the campaign." The sheer size of Sanders' spending agenda dwarfs the proposed tax increases he has offered to pay for it, economists across the ideological spectrum agree. Brian Riedl, a former Senate Republican budget aide who's now a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, has calculated that at most Sanders' existing proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy, Wall Street and corporations would raise about $23 trillion over the next decade. "There is nowhere near enough resources that you can credibly collect to pay for spending of this size [from the rich]," agrees MacGuineas. "When you are talking about a doubling in the size of the government, you are talking about significant tax increases on the middle class." To give a sense of the magnitude of the revenue challenge the Sanders plan would create, the CBO projects the total amount the federal government will collect over the next decade from the personal income tax is $23.2 trillion. That means Sanders is already proposing to raise additional taxes equal to the total expected receipts from the personal income tax -- and yet would still be tens of trillions of dollars short of covering the price tag for his agenda. "We are in uncharted territory going back to and beyond McGovern in terms of soak-the-rich approaches to taxation," says Summers. Cost to the economy At various points, Sanders and his supporters have responded to concerns about the cost of his plans by arguing that single-payer health care will save on total health care costs for average families by eliminating copayments, deductibles and premiums; that Sanders will save money by cutting defense spending; that spending in areas such as universal early childhood education or free public higher education will generate more benefits than costs for society by improving the productivity of the workforce; and that the overall agenda will accelerate economic growth to a point that makes the cost easier for the economy to absorb. Jeff Weaver, Sanders' senior campaign adviser, said in an earlier interview that the senator's proposed spending replicates the kinds of government investments that earlier generations supported to grow the economy more quickly. "If you look at the investment in the interstate highway system and the economic efficiencies it created, it was incredible," Weaver said. "It was a huge investment up front but the economic benefits are incalculable." Yet Summers is one of many economists, even in Democratic ranks, who say that increasing government spending as far and as fast as Sanders is proposing -- while imposing tax increases that are unprecedented in peacetime even as they fall short of covering his programs' cost -- carries enormous risk and uncertainty for the economy. Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Analytics, also says that while Sanders' goals are admirable, such a large package of new spending and taxes would carry a substantial economic cost. Like the other analysts, Zandi calculates that Sanders' plan would roughly double federal spending, while his taxes would cover only about 40-45% of his new costs, producing a significant long-term increase in federal debt. "The economy's long-term growth would likely be somewhat diminished by these policies," said Zandi, who has provided economic analysis for presidential candidates in both parties, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. "Most significantly, they would raise businesses' cost of capital, reduce investment and thus weigh on productivity and overall economic growth." Zandi said that while Sanders deserved credit for "stretching the political debate" and focusing attention on the holes in the social safety net, the overall impact of the Vermont senator's plan could be to reduce annual economic growth by about a quarter of a percentage point. "That's a big deal over time," Zandi said. "That is going from 2% growth to 1 ¾% growth. Over a period of a generation, that would make it harder to provide for a lot of the things he wants to provide." Costing out the plan The Congressional Budget Office, the most respected source of estimates on the impact of spending and taxing proposals, does not score the proposals of presidential candidates, so there is inevitably divergence on the potential costs of Sanders' ideas. But a broad framework of the potential price tag is available from an assortment of outside estimates and his campaign's projections. And it points to roughly a doubling in government's size. Among the most expensive elements of the Sanders plan are: His single-payer health care plan, which would replace all private health insurance with a government-run program. The center-left Urban Institute estimated last year that such a plan would increase federal spending on health care by about $34 trillion over the next decade, an estimate in line with projections by the Rand Corp. and other analysts. Sanders' "Green New Deal" proposal to end the nation's reliance on fossil fuels will cost $16.3 trillion over the next decade, according to the campaign's calculations. Sanders says on his website that he will spend $2.5 trillion over the next decade to build 10 million more units of affordable housing. Sanders has endorsed proposals to spend $1 trillion over the next decade on improving the nation's infrastructure. Sanders has proposed to eliminate tuition and fees at all public colleges and universities and to pay off all $1.6 trillion in student debt. Sanders puts the 10-year cost of tuition-free public college at $480 billion (though other estimates are somewhat higher). That would bring the cost of his higher education agenda to slightly above $2 trillion. Sanders has proposed an array of increases in federal spending on K-12, including a guaranteed $60,000 minimum salary for all teachers, that would likely cost slightly more than $1 trillion over a decade. *Sanders' website also says he supports universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as universal child care support. In a 2016 analysis of Sanders' program, MacGuineas' group put the 10-year cost of that proposal at $350 billion. *Sanders' plan to raise Social Security benefits woul
climate crisis
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Sanders has described climate change – now as well as during his 2016 run for president – as a global security threat. He is a leading proponent of the Green New Deal, the broad plan to address renewable-energy infrastructure and climate change proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. In August 2019, Sanders released a $16.3 trillion climate change program. His targets include meeting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s goal of 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030; cutting domestic emissions by 71% over that period; creating a $526 billion electric "smart grid”; investing $200 billion in the Green Climate Fund; and prioritizing what activists call a “just transition” for fossil fuel workers who would be dislocated during the transition. The Vermont independent would also cut off billions in subsidies to fossil fuel companies and impose bans on extractive practices, including fracking and mountaintop coal mining, while halting the import and export of coal, oil and natural gas. Sanders vows to recommit the US to the Paris climate accord, a landmark 2015 deal on global warming targets that Trump has pledged to abandon. More on Sanders’ climate crisis policy
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Sanders introduced his 21st-century Economic Bill of Rights in June 2019, in which he pledged “once and for all that every American, regardless of his or her income, is entitled to the right to a decent job that pays a living wage; the right to quality health care; the right to a complete education; the right to affordable housing; the right to a clean environment; and the right to a secure retirement.” In October 2019, he introduced a plan that would guarantee workers eventually take control of 20% stakes in the country’s largest companies through the issuance of new stock and would mandate that employees elect 45% of corporate boards of directors. The Sanders plan would also impose strict new guidelines on mega-mergers, while asking a revamped Federal Trade Commission to review deals pushed through during the Trump administration. Throughout his career, Sanders has been pro-union, saying in January, “If we are serious about reducing income and wealth inequality and creating good-paying jobs, we have to substantially increase the number of union jobs in this country.” In 2017, he supported a 10-year infrastructure plan costing $1 trillion. At the time, proponents estimated the plan would create 15 million jobs. He had put forth a similar proposal during his first presidential campaign. More on Sanders’ economic policy
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Sanders would eliminate tuition and fees at, as his campaign says, “four-year public colleges and universities, tribal colleges, community colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs.” He unveiled legislation in June 2019 that would wipe out $1.6 trillion in undergraduate and graduate student loan debt for about 45 million people. The plan has no eligibility limitations and would be paid for with a new tax on Wall Street speculation. Sanders frequently describes education as a “human right.” That means “making public colleges, universities and historically black colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free by tripling the work study program, expanding Pell grants and other financial incentives," he said. His “Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education” would seek to improve the K-12 system by taking aim at de facto segregation and public-school funding disparities while banning for-profit charter schools. More on Sanders’ education policy
gun violence
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Sanders describes “an epidemic of gun violence” in the US and has pushed for expanded background checks and the closing of assorted loopholes in firearm purchases. Sanders has consistently voted for legislation that would ban so-called assault weapons and said he would seek to do the same for high-capacity magazines. He said he would push for harsher punishments for “straw” purchases, when someone purchases a gun for someone who cannot legally possess a firearm. More on Sanders’ gun violence policy
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Sanders introduced “Medicare for All” legislation in 2017, which would have created a national government-run program providing comprehensive coverage with no premiums, deductibles or copays. He has taken this version of the plan one step further since its initial rollout to include long-term care at home and in the community for senior citizens and people with disabilities. Unlike some of his presidential opponents, Sanders says there should be no private insurance option except for items not covered by his Medicare for All act, such as elective procedures. Sanders argues that the increase in taxes would be more than offset by eliminating the premiums, deductibles and copayments associated with private health insurance. When asked during the first Democratic presidential debate about whether taxes would go up as a result of his health care plan, Sanders said: “Yes, they will pay more in taxes, but less in health care for what they get.” Sanders also supports importing drugs, allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and pegging the price of medicine in the US to the median price in five other developed nations. More on Sanders’ health care policy
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Sanders has called for comprehensive immigration legislation, which includes providing a path toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He has proposed providing legal status for those covered by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields from deportation some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. Sanders has also called for restructuring Immigration and Customs Enforcement. More on Sanders’ immigration policy
Federal appeals court rules that both parents in same-sex relationship can be listed on their child's birth certificates
Updated 11:34 PM ET, Sat Jan 18, 2020
Married same-sex couples in Indiana can list both parents on their children's birth certificates, a federal court ruled Friday. The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling Friday, 32 months after it first heard the case. The appeals court upheld a lower court's ruling that by refusing to list both same-sex spouses as parents on birth certificates, Indiana was denying them one of "the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage" under the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling. "Our clients are delighted," said Karen Celestino-Horseman, one of the lawyers for the same-sex couples. "This takes a lot of weight off their shoulders. They've been living as families and wondering if this was going to tear them apart." Under Indiana's law, opposite-sex spouses who used artificial insemination could still record a woman's husband as a child's father. However, same-sex couples were banned from doing the same. That meant the nonbiological mother would then have to adopt what, according to Indiana, was her wife's out of wedlock child. When contacted by CNN, the Indiana attorney general's office said it was unavailable for comment. A lower court had ruled earlier in favor of the same-sex couples in the case. However, the parents were still in limbo as to whether the court of appeals would uphold that decision, or whether one wife would have to go through what one lawyer described as the lengthy and expensive process of adopting her non-biological children. Parents in death, but not in life The decision brought relief and a sense of closure to plaintiffs Crystal and Noell Allen. After 16 years of being partners and two of marriage, Crystal became pregnant with twins in 2015 using a sperm donor. Along with their 5-year-old daughter, the Allens were excited at welcoming their new twins. But after complications in the womb, Crystal gave birth to Ashton and Alivea at 19 weeks. They passed away soon after birth. While grieving the loss of their children, the hospital said they could not list Noell as a parent on their birth certificates. However, she could be listed as a parent on her babies' death certificates. "When we found out, it was like salt in a fresh wound," Crystal said. "It was OK for us to be associated with their deaths, but not their births. It resonated in a strange way with me about how our government officials felt about us and our families." The birth certificate for the twins now lists both parents. The Allens had found it painful to relive their children's deaths in court. They found it difficult to explain their passing to their daughter, Elon, who had been 5 years old at the time. Now 10, Crystal says Elon thought her siblings were rejoicing after the decision. "I was explaining to her yesterday what the case was about and what it meant, and she said she bets that the twins are doing their happy dance," Crystal said. Legal uncertainty The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals deliberated the case for more than two and a half years -- one of the longest deliberations for that court, according to Celestino-Horseman. While the case waited in front of the judges, federal courts around the country ruled in favor of same-sex couples in similar birth certificate cases. In 2017, the Supreme Court confirmed that an Arkansas law requiring husbands to be listed on birth certificates applied to same-sex couples. While Friday's ruling provided some stability on the issue, Indiana's attorney general could still appeal the case to the Supreme Court. The court's ruling expressly left open the thorny question of a child's legal parentage when it came to same-sex male couples. Because all the plaintiffs were women, the ruling focused on female couples using sperm donors. When the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 to make same-sex marriage legal across the United States, it opened up a series of legal contests. States must now rule on retirement and social security benefits for couples who were only recently allowed to marry, among other issues. "It is my hope and prayer that we can move forward with this," Crystal Allen said. "It is my hope that it is over."