Fifth Term 1983–1988

“The first duty of the loyal opposition is to be loyal to our own convictions.”
Previous Term Next Term


Nicaragua and El Salvador
Senator Kennedy’s role in addressing international policy under Ronald Reagan’s Presidency included strong opposition to the Administration’s provision of aid to the Nicaraguan and El Salvadoran regimes on the grounds that the financial and military support was contributing to human rights abuses against the poorer populations in those nations.


Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984
Senator Kennedy helped enact crime legislation that created greater uniformity in federal sentencing and established the U.S. Sentencing Commission in order to create sentencing guidelines for the federal courts. While some considered the bill too tough, he believed it was an important tool for dealing with violent crime and for ensuring that criminal sentencing was fairer.


Anti-Apartheid Act and Veto Override
Following Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s invitation to visit South Africa in 1985, Senator Kennedy saw the destructive nature of apartheid firsthand and subsequently led the campaign to impose economic sanctions on the apartheid regime. He supported the cause of democracy in South Africa with the passage of the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Act. After Reagan’s veto of the bill, Senator Kennedy succeeded in getting the President’s veto overturned with a 78-21 vote in the Senate.
COBRA Benefits
Senator Kennedy sponsored legislation allowing employees who have left their jobs or been laid off to extend their health insurance benefits for 18 months. It was part of the Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 (COBRA). To this day, COBRA benefits enable American workers to continue health insurance between jobs.


The Soviet Union / Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, Senator Kennedy traveled four times to the Soviet Union to discuss arms control and advocate for free emigration. Amid heightened concern over the threat of nuclear war, Senator Kennedy joined with Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR) in 1982 to call for a nuclear freeze. Following a trip to Russia in 1986, Senator Kennedy relayed to the Reagan Administration that Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev was willing to negotiate a treaty on nuclear weapons in Europe. The resulting landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987, eliminated intermediate-range nuclear and conventional ground-launched missiles.


Fighting AIDS
At a time when little was known about AIDS and public fear of the disease loomed large, Senator Kennedy sponsored the first AIDS legislation, including the AIDS Awareness Act of 1988 and the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act of 1990, with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The funding expanded home and community care, made for easier access to experimental drugs, and created a new national commission to establish AIDS policy. As an early activist, Senator Kennedy was able to galvanize different voices to work on an issue viewed at the time as a “gay man’s disease.”
Civil Rights Restoration Act and Fair Housing Amendments
Senator Kennedy successfully sponsored legislation prohibiting discrimination by organizations receiving federal assistance (The Civil Rights Restoration Act) and strengthening federal laws against housing discrimination (Fair Housing Amendments) to increase fair housing options for people with disabilities.