They were young, they were impressionable, maybe they sometimes hung out with the wrong crowd.
Not too long ago — okay, almost a quarter of a century ago — Rick Santorum and Bernie Sanders were freshmen together in the House. Sanders kicked off his presidential campaign Tuesday, and Santorum is expected to announce his bid Wednesday afternoon. These days, they don't agree on much: Santorum is about as far right as any candidate in the Republican field, and Sanders will define the left in the Democratic primary.
So what brought the socialist and the social conservative together? For starters, they were still trying to establish themselves politically. While Sanders won his first election fairly comfortably, running as an independent in a two-party system is no easy task. Santorum had beaten seven-term Democratic incumbent Doug Walgren by less than 5,000 votes out of more than 166,000 cast.
Santorum also showed a concern for the economic needs of the working class in his district, putting him in the same column as Sanders on issues such as winter heating assistance. And they both agreed on cutting funding for the National Endowment for Democracy, which had been accused of secretly tinkering with foreign elections.
For the most part, they found common ground on issues that were easy to sell back home. The intersection of their legislative Venn diagram included efforts to help veterans, require colleges to establish rights for victims of sexual assault on campus, and implement some congressional reforms. Thanks to the Library of Congress, we have a full list of what they co-sponsored in that first term.
- Classifying merchant mariners from the World War II era as active-duty veterans for the purposes of eligibility for benefits
- Boosting a variety of benefits for veterans and their families (public law 102-3)
- Killing US funding for the National Endowment for Democracy
- Setting a formula for grazing fees on public lands
- Deeming non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other diseases to be connected to exposure to Agent Orange and other toxins used in the Vietnam War (public law 102-4)
- Cutting interest rates on Stafford loans for graduates who became educators
- Making Persian Gulf War veterans eligible for wartime benefits
- Protecting charity volunteers from liability for work done on behalf of the nonprofit
- Requiring that organ donation information be provided on tax refunds
- Freezing pay for federal judges and eliminating four-year increases for members of Congress
- Permanently extending qualified mortgage bonds
- Establishing a congressional silver medal for Persian Gulf War veterans
- Requiring federal agencies to reveal information about American POWs from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam
- Setting paper recycling standards for the federal government (with an exemption for Congress)
- Killing duty-free status for certain shoes put together in foreign countries
- Establishing a presidential advisory committee on commemorative events (the idea was to reduce the amount of time Congress spent on legislation paving the way for presidential proclamations)
- Authorizing purple hearts for World War I, World War II, and Korean War veterans who were injured in captivity
- Establishing a campus sexual assault victims' bill of rights. The Congressional Research Service Summary: "Amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) to require each eligible institution participating in any program under HEA title IV (Student Assistance) to include a statement of policy regarding the rights of victims of sexual assault, that complies with specified requirements, in its disclosure of campus security policy and campus crime statistics. Requires each institution of higher education to establish and implement a written policy establishing a campus sexual assault victims' bill of rights which provides that specified rights shall be accorded to such victims by all campus officers, administrators, and employees of such institution."
- Creating a 1994 USA World Cup commemorative coin
- Expediting FDA approval of lifesaving drugs and treatments
- Altering Medicare payment rules for physicians to, according to CRS, "revise the transition rules for phasing in the resource-based relative value scale (RB RVS) method of payment for physician services to prohibit adjustments for asymmetry in the transition and for behavioral responses."
- Preventing the Veterans Affairs Department from reporting to other agencies that a veteran's debt from a home loan guaranty program had been waived
- Removing the annual limit on outpatient physical and occupational therapy costs under Medicare Part B
- Establishing a pilot program within the Veterans Affairs Department to study whether hospice care could be provided to dying veterans
- Creating an inspector general's office in Congress
- Minting a Civil War commemorative coin
- Assessing crimes against the elderly and the needs of law enforcement in protecting them
- Designating May 1991 as "Older Americans Month"
- Designating May 1991 as "National Physical Fitness and Sports Month"
- Designating the week of April 21, 1991, as "National Crime Victims' Rights Week"
- Expressing the sense that Congress supports a national victory parade in honor of Desert Storm troops
- Designating a national military families day on November 23, 1991
- Disclosing information on the assassination of President Kennedy
- Designating a national military families day on November 21, 1992
- Pushing OSHA to establish regulations for operators of powered industrial trucks
- Creating a committee to study the reorganization of Congress
- Expressing the sense of Congress in support of what would become the 27th Amendment, which precludes lawmakers from voting to adjust their pay during the current Congress (sponsored by Rep. John Boehner)
- Expressing the sense of Congress that heating and cooling assistance for low-income Americans be held even or increased
- Expressing the sense of Congress in favor of mental health parity in the passage of new health-care laws
- Amending House rules to require a roll call vote — rather than an anonymous voice vote — on legislation appropriating money or extending credit.
- Santorum didn't co-sponsor any bills or resolutions that Sanders was the original sponsor of, but Sanders did sign on to one Santorum bill. It would have limited mileage reimbursement for members of Congress to the level for the rest of the federal government.
By comparison, Santorum, who would later rise in the Senate GOP leadership on the strength of his commitment to conservative social causes, co-sponsored 77 bills with current Ohio Governor John Kasich, a fellow Republican who was gaining prominence in the House at the time. Santorum and Sanders also both spoke against a bailout of savings and loan depositors in 1991 and were on the winning side when the House rejected a $30 billion assistance bill on a 201-220 vote in March that year.
In the following Congress, their second and final term in the House together, Santorum and Sanders co-sponsored another 40 bills and resolutions. The issue set was similar, with some additional agreement between the two House members on ending the Trident II missile program and extending low-income housing credits.
Of course, they had vehement disagreements, too. Sanders opposed fast-track trade authority for President George H. W. Bush, in part because he didn't want to see NAFTA ratified, while Santorum approved of it. And Santorum mocked a campaign finance reform bill for which Sanders was one of the chief advocates because it provided for public matching funds for candidates under certain circumstances.
"Can you believe this?" Santorum said on the floor. "I ask the people up here in the audience and people watching, can you believe that we are here today on the House floor talking about how to spend the taxpayers' money to help us get elected?"
The two remain at odds on most issues, including campaign finance reform. Santorum's last presidential bid was backed by billionaire Foster Friess's contributions to a Super PAC. Sanders wants to eliminate Super PACs.