Supposedly, he's an idealist, a dreamer, with no idea how to accomplish what he is proposing in his speeches. Although he says at every opportunity that he will not be able to make the admittedly massive changes he proposes without the active participation of millions of us in a political revolution, he is nevertheless criticized for promising things that he has no chance of delivering. This criticism is often accompanied by the question above: what has Bernie actually ever accomplished.
Well, let's take a look, shall we?
From an Alternet story titled "Bernie Gets it Done: Sanders' Record of Pushing Through Major Reforms Will Surprise You" from back in October, the author Zaid Jilani points out that during a 12-year period in the House of Representatives, Bernie passed more amendments than any other House member, and was dubbed by the author:
The Amendment King
Despite the fact that the most right-wing Republicans in a generation controlled the House of Representatives between 1994 and 2006, the member who passed the most amendments during that time was not a right-winger like Bob Barr or John Boehner. The amendment king was, instead, Bernie Sanders.
And these amendments were not trivial, nor just pork for the folks back home. Instead, they were called "exclusively progressive."
Saving Money, for Colleges and Taxpayers (April 1998): In an amendment to H.R. 6, the Higher Education Amendments of 1998, Sanders made a change to the law that allowed the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education to make competitive grants available to colleges and universities that cooperated to reduce costs through joint purchases of goods and services.
Holding IRS Accountable, Protecting Pensions (July 2002): Sanders' amendment to the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act of 2003 stopped the IRS from being able to use funds that "violate current pension age discrimination laws." Although he faced stiff GOP opposition, his amendment still succeeded along a 308 to 121 vote.
Expanding Free Health Care (November 2001): You wouldn't think Republicans would agree to an expansion of funds for community health centers, which provide some free services. But Sanders was able to win a $100 million increase in funding with an amendment.
Getting Tough On Child Labor (July 2001): A Sanders amendment to the general appropriations bill prohibited the importation of goods made with child labor.
Increasing Funding for Heating for the Poor (September 2004): Sanders won a $22 million increase for the low-income home energy assistance program and related weatherization assistance program.
Fighting Corporate Welfare and Protecting Against Nuclear Disasters (June 2005): A Sanders amendment brought together a bipartisan coalition that outnumbered a bipartisan coalition on the other side to successfully prohibit the Export-Import Bank from providing loans for nuclear projects in China.
Doing this was not easy — he had to put together bipartisan coalitions (remember those?). He continued this effective work when he was elected to the Senate in 2006, with amendments like the following:
Greening the U.S. Government (June 2007): A Sanders amendment made a change to the law so at least 30 percent of the hot water demand in newer federal buildings is provided through solar water heaters.
Protecting Our Troops (October 2007): Sanders used an amendment to win $10 million for operation and maintenance of the Army National Guard, which had been stretched thin and overextended by the war in Iraq.
Restricting the Bailout to Protect U.S. Workers (Feburary 2009): A Sanders amendment required the banking bailout to utilize stricter H-1B hiring standards to ensure bailout funds weren't used to displace American workers.
Exposing Corruption in the Military-Industrial Complex (November 2012): A Sanders amendment required "public availability of the database of senior Department officials seeking employment with defense contractors" – an important step toward transparency that revealed the corruption of the revolving door in action.
Support for Treating Autism in Military Health Care: Sanders worked with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to pass an amendment by a vote of 66-29 ensuring that the military's TRICARE system would be able to treat autism.
He was even able to force an amendment that Ron Paul had been trying to pass forever, requiring the first-ever audit of the Federal Reserve.
Hillary sometimes seems to imply (or get surrogates to state outright) that Sanders would destroy Obamacare. To the contrary, he not only supported it, but also successfully pushed through an important amendment to fund free community health clinics:
When the Affordable Care Act was in danger of not having the votes to pass, Sanders used his leverage to win enough funding for free health treatment for 10 million Americans through Community Health Centers. This gutsy move—holding out until the funds were put into the bill—has even Republican members of Congress requesting the funds, which have helped millions of Americans who otherwise would not have access.
How many ineffective dreamers (much less applicants for conscientious objector stature) have received praise from John McCain for their work on veteran's issues?
Another moment came when Sanders, who was then chair of the Veterans committee, worked with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), to overhaul the Veterans Administration. McCain praised Sanders' work on the bill in an interview with National Journal. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) even went so far as to say the bill would never have passed without Sanders' ability to bring the parties to a deal.
In sum, when people compare the records of Sanders and Clinton in the Senate, they often stop at the most superficial level, looking only at bills bearing their names as sponsors. Digging just a little deeper, it is obvious that Sanders has been a committed, effective, and successful progressive legislator for decades. The skills needed to be president go beyond this, of course, and Congress is much more polarized than it has ever been. Nevertheless, Bernie's real accomplishments on behalf of some of the most vulnerable in society speak to the fact that, at least in Congress, Bernie has far outpaced Hillary when it comes to getting things done