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Fact-checking Bernie Sanders’ attacks on Joe Biden over trade, Social Security differences
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., accompanied by his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders, speaks during a primary night election rally in Essex Junction, Vt. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., accompanied by his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders, speaks during a primary night election rally in Essex Junction, Vt. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., accompanied by his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders, speaks during a primary night election rally in Essex Junction, Vt. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg March 4, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • Biden voted for the Iraq War resolution. Sanders opposed it.

  • 25 years ago, Biden was open to dialing back Social Security and Medicare. He now wants to increase Social Security payments.

  • Biden backed trade agreements, and his position today seems similar.

As Joe Biden racked up win after win on Super Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., rallied his backers around the reality that the Democratic primary was suddenly a two-man race.

And he wasted no time drawing a thick line between them. 

"You cannot beat Trump with the same-old, same-old kind of politics," Sanders said March 3 at a victory party in his home state, where he won the primary handily. 

Calling the race "a contrast in ideas," he ticked off the sharpest fault lines between himself and Biden, though he didn’t mention the former vice president by name. 

We vetted each of them.

"One of us in this race led the opposition to the war in Iraq. You're looking at him. Another candidate voted for the war in Iraq."

That’s correct. In October 2002, then-U.S. Sen. Biden voted in favor of a resolution that authorized President George W. Bush to enforce ''all relevant'' United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iraq and if needed, to use military force. Sanders voted against it.

The night of the vote, Biden said it was needed to give Bush a strong hand to force Iraq to destroy any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons it might have. He later said he made a mistake in trusting Bush to use diplomacy over military might. When he claimed recently that he "immediately" opposed the war, we rated that False.

"One of us has spent his entire life fighting against cuts in Social Security, to expand Social Security. Another candidate has been on the floor of the Senate, calling for cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veteran's programs."

This is partly correct, but it doesn’t reflect where Biden stands today.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Biden spoke in favor of freezes to Social Security as part of an effort to rein in spending to reduce the deficit. In 1995, Biden voted in favor of an amendment to spare Social Security benefits from any legislation to implement a balanced-budget amendment. But Biden ultimately supported a version of the balanced-budget amendment without such an exemption

"When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well," Biden said at the time. "I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veteran’s benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government."

RELATED: The fight between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders over Social Security, explained

As vice president, Biden generally changed his focus to protecting Social Security. The Obama administration resisted moves to privatize Social Security. On the other hand, until progressive senators talked him out of it, President Barack Obama was ready to change how inflation would be calculated. The change would have reduced benefit increases going forward.  

Today, Biden says he would increase the minimum benefit for lifelong workers and make payments for the oldest beneficiaries more generous. To shore up Social Security’s finances, he would raise taxes on upper-income households.

"One of us led the opposition to disastrous trade agreements, which cost us millions of good-paying jobs — and that's me. And another candidate voted for disastrous trade agreements."

The job loss numbers might be in dispute, but on the votes, this is correct.

On the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, Biden voted yes, and Sanders voted no

On granting normal trade relations to China in 2000, Biden voted yes, and Sanders voted no.

Of the two trade measures, the one with China had the bigger impact on jobs. Economists disagree on the scale, but Chinese factories with their low-wage workers rocked many areas of American manufacturing. One key study found that U.S. policy on China reduced total employment growth by nearly 20 percentage points from 1997 to 2007 compared with the previous decade. Among manufacturing workers, the reduction was nearly 25 percentage points.

Biden has voted against smaller trade agreements with countries such as Oman and Chile, and a regional agreement with Central American nations, CAFTA.

Today, Biden shows little sign of having changed his views on trade. His campaign website lacks a position paper on trade itself. He promises to do better for farmers. He says broadly that he will "shape the future rules of the road on everything from the environment to labor to trade to transparency, non-proliferation to cyber theft, and data privacy to artificial intelligence, so they continue to reflect democratic interests and values."

"One of us stood up for consumers and said we will not support a disastrous bankruptcy bill. And another candidate represented the credit card companies and voted for that disastrous bill."

He’s correct about the votes. 

In the early 2000s, Biden co-sponsored legislation that would make it harder for people to qualify for bankruptcy protection. The financial industry, a major donor to Biden’s campaigns, was eager to tighten the rules on Chapter 7, the most common path for households to wipe out their debts.

In 2005, Biden backed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which passed the Senate 74-25 and became law.

Under it, if a person made more than the median income in their state, and could afford to pay $100 a month on their debts, they could not file for Chapter 7 protection.

Sanders opposed the bill.

"We have another candidate who has received contributions from at least 60 billionaires."

This is correct. 

Forbes magazine found that "Biden’s campaign picked up six new billionaire donors in January, bringing his total count to 66." Forbes compiled a list of 640 American billionaires and all of their spouses. It then ran the names through the Federal Election Commission database.

Sanders has built a massive small-donation money machine and at one point returned donations from the spouse of a billionaire.

UPDATE, March 5: This article was changed to include Biden's votes against some trade agreements.

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Fact-checking Bernie Sanders’ attacks on Joe Biden over trade, Social Security differences