Biden selects transgender doctor as assistant health secretary
President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday he will select Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to be his assistant secretary of health. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she will become the first openly transgender federal official.
“Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” Biden said in a statement. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”
PA Gov. Tom Wolf (D) first appointed Levine as Pennsylvania’s physician general — the state’s top doctor — in 2015. Levine was appointed by Wolf in 2017 as acting health secretary. She was confirmed three times by the state Senate to serve as secretary of health and the state’s physician general.
In 2020, Levine became the public face of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Levine came under scrutiny in May 2020 for removing her 95-year-old mother from a personal care home amid a statewide coronavirus outbreak and transitioning her to another location.
Many criticized her for this decision, including York County state Rep. Seth Grove (R), saying that she’s done what many families are unable to do for financial or logistical reasons.
Shortly after this incident, Levine announced that she would begin testing every nursing home resident and staff member for coronavirus, a massive undertaking.
Some lawmakers called for the immediate resignation or removal of Levine from her position.
PA rep. Russ Diamond (R) cited “the horrific results of the department’s COVID-19 policy” in regard to the number of cases and deaths that occurred in nursing homes and other facilities under the department’s oversight. He introduced a resolution for her resignation.
PA state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), also called for Levine’s resignation, saying she committed the equivalent of policy malpractice in her handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its spread through nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Still, Gov. Wolf defended Levine, saying, “My assessment of Dr. Levine is that she is doing a phenomenal job, and I think we’ve got to be careful about blaming the messenger for the message.”
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House passes debt-ceiling deal with support from two thirds of GOP caucus
After hours of debate, the House voted Wednesday night to approve a bipartisan debt-ceiling deal, taking a step toward averting a default on U.S. debt. The measure passed with 314 members voting in favor and 117 members voting in opposition. 149 Republicans and 165 Democrats voted to approve the bill, while 71 Republicans and 46 Democrats voted against it.
National Review writes the measure’s passage secures “a victory for House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who managed to keep his caucus together despite a challenge from House Freedom Caucus members intent on securing greater spending concessions from the Biden White House.”
The bill will now head to the Senate. McCarthy said the measure is the “largest spending cut that Congress has ever voted for,” but faced opposition from members of his caucus who believe the deal “didn’t go far enough in restoring pre-Covid spending levels.”
In his speech on the House floor Wednesday before the vote, McCarthy pleaded with his colleagues to support what he had bargained for with Biden:
“They demanded a clean debt limit, which really means they spend more and you pay more in taxes. House Republicans said ‘no’,” McCarthy said.“Over the past four months, we fought hard to change how Washington works. We stopped the Democrats from writing a blank check after the largest spending binge in American history… The Fiscal Responsibility Act is the biggest spending cut in American history.”
National Review reports:
The agreement suspends the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt limit through January 1, 2025, and caps spending in the 2024 and 2025 budgets.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the deal will reduce budget deficits by about $1.5 trillion between 2023 and 2033. Director of the CBO Phillip Swagel projected that there would be reductions in discretionary outlays of $1.3 trillion over the 2024–2033 period. Mandatory spending would decrease by $10 billion, revenues would decrease by $2 billion over the same period, and the interest on the public debt would decline by $188 billion.
Biden warned of the consequences of default, saying what would follow would include an economic recession, devastated retirement accounts, and millions of jobs lost.
“I made clear from the start of negotiations that the only path forward was a bipartisan budget agreement,” explained Biden on Twitter. “No one got everything they wanted. But that’s the responsibility of governing.”
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