The capitol building in washington, dc at dusk.

Revamped Build Back Better Act benefits seniors – Herb Weiss

By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues

Almost two months after H.R. 5376, a revamped version of the Build Back Better Act, was introduced, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was elated. “This bill is monumental. It is historic,” she told CBS News. “It is transformative. It is bigger than anything we have ever done,” she said.

Initially this vote was scheduled for a vote but was delayed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s eight hour and 32-minute floor speech, setting the record of the longest speech on the floor. He called the bill “the single most reckless and irresponsible spending bill in our nation’s history.”

Ultimately H.R. 5376 was passed 220-213 on Friday, the 19th, at 9:46am, along party lines, with the exception of Jared F. Golden (D-Maine), who broke with the party by voting against the $1.75 trillion social spending, climate change package, citing his opposition to tax giveaways to the wealthy.

H.R. 5376 still faces legislative obstacles in the Senate, where it’s unclear whether moderate Senators Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and progressive Bernie Sanders will agree to some of the provisions included by the House. Manchin fears that the sweeping plan would fuel higher inflation, while Sinema still expresses concerns about Medicare’s price cutting provisions. Sanders plans to push for significant increases in social spending and funding to attack climate change.

This bill, enacting as part of President Biden’s Build Back Better Plan, provides funding, establishes programs and modifies provisions relating to a broad array of areas, including education, labor, childcare, health care, taxes, immigration, and the environment.

It provides the largest investment in child care in the nation’s history, saving most working American families more than half of their spending on child care.  It provides guaranteed universal pre-school for all three-and four-year old’s, the first expansion of basic public education in 100 years.  

The passed bill caps annual out-of-pocket prescription drug costs under Medicare at $2,000, saving more than a million seniors an average of $1,200 a year. It also expands the Affordable Care Act so that those who have been locked out of Medicaid can get health care coverage, including all insurance companies to provide insulin for no more than $35 a month.

Broadly speaking, and if enacted as it stands, H.R. 5376 funds the largest investment to combat the climate crisis and provides the single largest most comprehensive investment in affordable housing in U.S. history. Finally, it creates the largest middle-class tax cut in the nation’s history.

Point-Counter Point

“This is quite simply the greatest investment in American families in generations,” said House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) in a statement released after passage of H.R. 5376. It will lower costs, lower taxes, and ease the mounting financial burdens of everyday life in the 21st century. Millions of good jobs will be created, and we will finally give the climate crisis the resources and attention necessary to save the planet,” adds Yarmuth, the bill’s primary sponsor.

In her floor speech, Pelosi noted, “If you are a parent, a senior, a child, a work, if you are an American, this bill is for you and it is getter – it’s better in terms of health care. It’s better if you are a senior, your costs at the pharmacy will be cut to a fraction, with annual costs capped under Medicare Part D, annual benefits from the Medicare hearing budget. It’s better if you have diabetes: When you go to the pharmacy, instead of paying hundreds for insulin, you’ll pay no more than $35 per month.”

House Republicans had other thoughts as to the impact of H.R. 5376. Republican Congressman Time Johnson of Ohio, reflected his strong opposition to the passed legislation: “Just two weeks after passing a $1.2 trillion ‘infrastructure’ bill, Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues in the House approved trillions more in government spending that will fundamentally change America – and not for the better. This 2100-page, far-left socialist dream is filled with government subsidies for special interests, tax cuts for millionaires, mass amnesty for millions of illegal aliens, 80,000 new IRS agents who will spy on your bank account and an assault on America’s fossil fuel energy sources – coal, oil, and natural gas. These are some of the many reasons why I voted NO on this dangerous legislation.”

“Joe Biden’s and Nancy Pelosi’s reckless government spending has spiked inflation to a 30-year high. Gas prices are surging. As we enter the winter season, it will cost American families 50% more to heat their homes – leaving many out in the cold. And, next week’s Thanksgiving dinner will be the most expensive on record. This massive spending bill includes trillions for new ‘cradle-to-grave’ government programs designed to make millions of Americans dependent on Washington bureaucrats for their child care, education and nutrition.”

Expanding the nation’s safety net for seniors

According to the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), passing Biden’s Build Back Better Plan is “a victory achieved by Democrats to benefit America’s seniors.”

It’s the biggest expansion of the social safety net for older Americans and their families in five decades, says NCPSSM, noting that the passed legislation expands Medicare benefits, lowers prescription drug prices, and adds billions of new dollars to keep seniors in their homes.

“During a season focused on gratitude, American seniors should be thankful to House Democrats for passing President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Not a single Republican voted for this landmark legislation to lift-up American seniors and families. It is now up to the Senate Democrats to get this done,” says Max Richtman, President and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

“We hope that Speaker Pelosi is correct that Democratic divisions are in the rear-view mirror and that Senate Democrats will unite around this transformative legislation. Seniors and their families are counting on them,” says Richtman.

“Though seniors’ advocates did not get everything that they wanted in the final House bill, these expansions are historic — and reflect long-held policy goals, notes NCPSSM in its latest blog. “Build Back Better is the first comprehensive federal legislation to address soaring prescription drug prices, and the first expansion of Medicare since the Part D prescription drug benefit was enacted in 2003. Notably that law prohibited Medicare from negotiating with Big Pharma, allowing the industry to engage in price-gouging that has grown increasingly worse with every passing year.

“Seniors are sick and tired of paying the highest prices in the world for the medications they need. We applaud the members of Congress who stood up to Big Pharma and ensured that Build Back Better will lower drug prices and reduce costs for all taxpayers. AARP strongly supports the bill’s investment in the health of seniors by adding a hearing benefit to the Medicare program. It’s long over-due that Medicare cover the whole person and this addition is an important step,” said AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond in a statement reacting to the House passage of the H.R.5376.

Adds LeaMond: “Today’s vote is an historic step to help seniors afford the prescription drugs they need. The bill that the House passed today includes meaningful reforms to bring down medication costs: finally allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, penalizing drug companies that increase their prices faster than inflation, adding a hard out-of-pocket cap to Medicare Part D and capping copayments for insulin.”

The Upper Chamber

With recess over, Congress now turns its attention to consideration of raising the nation’s debt limit and passing a continuing resolution to keep the government funded. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has stated he wants to pass the House’s sweeping package by Christmas.  “As soon as the necessary technical and procedural work with the Senate Parliamentarian has been completed [to ensure it complies with budget reconciliation rules], the Senate will take up this legislation,” says Schumer in a statement released after House passage. If it complies, Democrats can approve the Senate version with a simple majority without the need for Republican votes.

Now Senate Democratic leadership must also address the concerns of centralist Democrats Manchin and Kyrsten and left leaning Senator Bernie Sanders to bring them back to the Democratic fold. The Senate is split equally between Democrats and Republicans, so the Democratic majority can’t afford to lose the vote of these Senators. 

“Whether the Senate enacts the bill before the holidays or early in 2022, the National Committee has a clear message for Democrats. “They must unite around this historic legislation,” says Richtman. “Seniors and their families are counting on them,” he says.


To read columns by Herb Weiss for RINewsToday, go to:


Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly or a sequel, Taking Charge: Vol 2  More Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of newspaper articles published in the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call, go to

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  1. Frankie on November 29, 2021 at 12:49 pm

    This bill was not passed two months ago. It was passed on November 18th.

    • RINewsToday on November 29, 2021 at 1:32 pm

      Caught it! Thank you

  2. daniel issa on November 29, 2021 at 12:28 pm

    Great recap!?