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Senate GOP proposes to delay major corporate tax cut a year

Published: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 2:56 AM
Updated: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 2:55 AM

Sweeping tax legislation from Senate Republicans includes a one-year delay in plans for a major corporate tax cut despite strident opposition from the White House and others in their own party. Their bill would leave the prized mortgage interest deduction untouched for homeowners in a concession to the powerful real estate lobby but would ignore a House compromise on the hot-button issue of state and local tax deductions.

On the other side of the Capitol on Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved its own version of the legislation on a party-line 24-16 vote, amid intense political pressure on the GOP to push forward on the first major rewrite of the U.S. tax code in three decades. It's President Donald Trump's top priority and a goal many Republicans believe has grown even more urgent in the wake of election losses on Tuesday that displayed an energized Democratic electorate.

Yet as the Senate Finance Committee unveiled its bill, a few stark differences emerged with the version approved by the House tax-writing committee, underscoring the challenges ahead in getting both chambers to agree on the complex and far-reaching legislation that would affect nearly every American.

The Senate measure fails to repeal the estate tax, though it doubles the size of estates exempted from the tax. It makes couples earning up to $1 million eligible for a $1,650 per-child tax credit. It creates a new 38.5 percent tax bracket for couples earning more than $1 million and individuals making more than $500,000 per year. And it takes a different approach to cutting taxes for businesses not organized as corporations that is less generous but applies to more businesses.

Democrats are strongly opposed to the GOP rewrite, so the Republicans must find agreement among themselves to have any hope of passage.

The Senate bill would fully repeal the state and local deduction claimed by many taxpayers, an idea that has drawn vigorous opposition from House Republicans in New York and New Jersey and resulted in a compromise in the House version of the bill that would allow property taxes to be deducted up to $10,000.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told The Associated Press that the Senate's total-repeal approach would face tough sledding in his chamber. As for the hard-fought compromise, he said, "I think it'd be difficult not to have it in the final bill."

On the other hand, the House bill would lower the cap on the mortgage interest deduction, an idea that caused intense blowback from the real estate lobby, but the Senate tax measure would leave it unchanged. That means homebuyers would continue to be able to deduct interest payments on loans of up to $1 million as permitted under current law; the House bill would reduce the limit to $500,000 for new home purchases.

The feverish efforts by Republicans in both chambers are aimed at fulfilling a self-imposed deadline to get legislation out of the House and Senate before Thanksgiving so the period between then and Christmas can be devoted to reconciling the two versions. But the Senate already seems unlikely to meet that deadline because of complex rules governing how it must consider the tax bill.

In one provision sure to cause a major dispute, the Senate measure includes a one-year delay in lowering the corporate tax rate, which is to be cut from 35 percent to 20 percent. Delaying that reduction would lower the cost of the bill to the Treasury, but the delay is opposed by the White House and some Senate Republicans.

"The president would like this to go into effect right away," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday on Fox Business Network.

Other obstacles remain, among them a band of deficit hawks in the Senate who are unhappy about the $1.5 trillion the legislation would add to the national debt over the coming decade.

"I remain concerned over how the current tax reform proposals will grow the already staggering national debt by opting for short-term fixes while ignoring long-term problems," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ala. "We must achieve real tax reform crafted in a fiscally responsible manner."

The House and Senate bills are broadly similar in their outlines. Both would drastically reduce the corporate tax rate and also lower rates for individuals, while eliminating deductions claimed by many people.

The House version would collapse the current seven tax brackets into four, while the Senate would retain seven. The House bill would entirely eliminate the estate tax, while the Senate version would retain it while doubling the exemption level. Both versions would retain an adoption tax credit that had initially been eliminated in the House bill, but that adoption advocates fought to restore.

Both would increase a child tax credit, though not to levels sought by Sens. Marco Rubio and others, an indication of how individual provisions will need to be negotiated with one lawmaker after another in the weeks to come. House Republicans appear on track to pass their version of the bill next week, but in the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a slim 52-48 majority that has proven difficult to corral.

Democrats are angrily opposed to the GOP rewrite, arguing it's a giveaway to the rich and corporate America. Republicans contend that the tax reductions will help the middle class, even though some independent analyses have found that the wealthy and corporations benefit disproportionately.

The tax bill must deepen federal deficits by no more than $1.5 trillion over the coming decade. If Republicans don't meet that, the measure would be vulnerable to a bill-killing Senate filibuster by Democrats that GOP senators lack the votes to block. It also cannot add to red ink beyond the first 10 years without facing the same fate.

___

Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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Back on the air with Jamie Dupree 2.0

Published: Monday, June 18, 2018 @ 12:15 PM

It was just another newscast this morning for WSB Radio in Atlanta. It was just another newscast on WDBO in Orlando, WHIO in Dayton, WOKV in Jacksonville, and KRMG in Tulsa. But it was much more than that for me, as my voice – my new, computer generated voice – went on the air today, getting me back on the radio for the first time in two years, after my voice was taken away by an unknown neurological disorder.

We call it, Jamie Dupree 2.0, a voice synthesized from recordings of my past news stories, which when paired with a special text-to-speech program, will allow me to go back on the radio,

I tuned in from home to see how it would sound. It all seemed so normal. The anchor reading the intro. “More from Jamie Dupree in Washington.” And then my story played on the radio, just like up until the spring of 2016.

A few hours later, I got to work, and there was breaking news from the Supreme Court, as the Justices sidestepped a ruling on two cases dealing with gerrymandering of legislative district lines.

It all felt so normal. I typed up my story, fed it out to my stations, and it hit the air.

At home it seemed normal. But at work in the Capitol, when it played out in real time – the moment hit home.

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Pulling back the curtain on Jamie Dupree 2.0

Published: Sunday, June 17, 2018 @ 1:19 PM

Monday marks the start of a new effort to get my voice back on the radio for the first time in two years, by using a high tech solution, a computer generated voice, drawn from recordings of my old stories, as medical efforts to bring my voice back – to anything close to normal – have not been successful.

It was April 2016 when my voice began to falter, after I got sick on a family vacation; since then, my doctors have determined that I have a rare neurological disorder, in which the signals from the brain are getting mixed up somehow, causing my tongue to push out of my mouth when I speak – it’s known as ‘tongue protrusion dystonia.’

As it became obvious in the last year that my voice was not coming back, we searched for answers, and finally, high tech guru Mike Lupo at our Cox Media Group corporate headquarters contacted a company in Scotland, CereProc, which agreed to try to build what amounts to a Jamie Dupree voice app.

How does it work? How do I produce stories with it? Why is it even needed? Let’s take a look.

1. Let’s start with an explanation of what’s wrong. Over the past two years, there have been no answers in the search for my voice. What I have is a neurological disorder, for which there really aren’t specific treatments, known as tongue protrusion dystonia. When I try to talk, my tongue pops out of my mouth, my throat clenches, and it results in a strangled, unintelligible voice. I’ve been to Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, George Washington, the Cleveland Clinic, Emory University. The Mayo Clinic wouldn’t take my case. Many doctors have frankly admitted my problems were above their expertise. At Easter of 2017, the head of the voice center at the Cleveland Clinic correctly diagnosed my problems, but had no names to offer me in terms of treatment. I have been seeing a doctor outside of D.C. who agreed to try to decipher my case, but we really haven’t pushed any closer to a solution. In March, I saw Dr. Hyder Jinnah at the Emory University Brain Health Center in Atlanta – he gave me two Botox shots to my tongue in mid-May, to see if that would slow my tongue, and stop it from thrusting out of my mouth when I speak. It hasn’t really helped, so we will try again in August, with a little more Botox. You can hear from my doctor in this report that was done by CNN’s medical unit, thanks to producer Sandee LaMotte.

2. Building a voice from the Dupree archives. Since my voice isn’t going to re-appear anytime soon, we started looking for high tech ways to get me back on the air. The first step was gathering years of recordings of my voice. I have shoe boxes filled with cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, mini-discs, hard drives, and all sorts of different media storage devices from the first time I went on the radio in 1983, up through April of 2016 when my voice went out. But to build this voice, we focused on recordings from the last few years, which I had saved on our company computer system. Whether it was my reports from Capitol Hill, or from out on the campaign trail, I had hours and hours of material. But what the people at CereProc needed was audio that was only from me – so I spent several very late nights sorting through hundreds and hundreds of my stories to isolate those items which would help build a good voice. Going through all of that audio, it was like a trip down memory lane of what news stories that I had covered in the past few years, where I had been during my campaign coverage, what stories were big, and more. But that audio search was also a sobering personal reminder for me, that what was once normal – the mere act of speaking on the radio – was now impossible. Thus, the need for Jamie Dupree 2.0.

3. CereProc then goes to work. Once I handed off hundreds of audio files to the folks at CereProc in Scotland, all I could do was wait to see what they were going to be able to produce. “The voice was harder to build as the audio data used to build the voice was not recorded for the purpose of building a text-to-speech voice,” said Graham Leary, who was in charge of my voice development. “Normally we would record a phonetically-balanced script, optimized for coverage of the different sounds in English,” he added. In other words – they would bring someone in to record 30 hours or more of material, to make sure they get all the right sounds. With me, they had to improvise, but Leary said it worked out okay. “The radio reports are high quality and a suitable alternative – they are studio-recorded, read in a measured, consistent style and don’t have any interjections from other speakers, crowd noise, applause etc. that can make audio difficult to work with.” Trust me, this is a complicated process.

4. Pairing the voice with a text-to-speech program. The folks at CereProc recommended downloading a freeware program called “Balabolka” to use with my Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice. While the name might be a tongue twister, the program is fairly straightforward. You load a specific voice to be used – in my case, the “CereVoice Jamiedupree – English (East Coast America)” voice. You type in some words. Then you hit the ‘play’ button. And it plays what you write. Hit another button, and it exports those written words into a computer generated audio file, either wav or mp3. Balabolka is a very powerful tool, and can probably do a lot more than I am using it for – but to see how it easy it was to hit Alt-W and generate an mp3 file with my new voice, it was really quite a surprise. So, when you hear me on the radio with this synthesized voice, it will just be me typing the words, and saving them into an audio file.

5. How does the voice work? When I type words into the text-to-speech program, it doesn’t go looking in an audio vault on my laptop for the exact words that I write, and then put those words together one-by-one. Instead, it searches out the sounds that would be made. So, this is not a question of having me on tape saying every word in the dictionary. Yes, it helps to have examples of me saying “President Trump” or “Congress.” But I know there was no example in my stories of me saying “Rudy Giuliani,” and yet, that popped out perfectly when I tried out the voice. How can that happen? CereProc uses “neural networks” to generate voices. “The neural networks, which contain between six to 10 layers each, work by slicing audio recordings of words down to phonetics,” the BBC wrote in a technical story about my new computer generated voice. This allows the Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice – and other voices created by companies all over the world – to navigate through just about any piece of text.

6. Figuring out certain words and sounds. While I have great praise for CereProc, the Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice isn’t perfect. One thing you run into immediately is that certain words and phrases don’t sound right – either because they are not pronounced clearly enough, or they seem artificially shortened. So, I spend a lot of time going back and moving words around in my news copy to see if it will sound better. One other way to massage the voice is that there are also a series of XML commands which can be used to emphasize certain words, to change the pitch, or alter the speed. One thing I quickly noticed is that the voice cuts off a word rather sharply at the end of a sentence – I simply found a way to fix that by slowing down the speed of the last word (or syllable) by 1 or 2 notches, to make it sound more natural. But there are some words that just don’t come out right, even if they are spelled correctly, so you have to be inventive. “Investigation” just doesn’t come out right, no matter what I try. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s last name didn’t sound good at all – so I wrote “Rye Inn” instead – and that sounded just right. Let’s take the word “denuclearize.” It sounded awful when written that way – but I found a way to make it sound better, as shown in the graphic below, by making it D-nuclear-rise, and by slowing down the final syllable.

7. What does Jamie Dupree 2.0 sound like? Listen to this extended ‘interview’ that I did with the BBC World Service. Some of the words and phrases sound natural and fairly normal – at other times, it gets a bit robotic. But to me, it’s still pretty amazing. It is my voice in there. And to be on the BBC World Service was a treat – I got hooked on shortwave radio as a teenager, and loved listening to Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’ each week. Will this voice solution work in the long run? That will be up to my bosses – and really, up to the listeners. If they can deal with the different sound – whether in a newscast, or a longer form appearance – then I will still be able to deliver the news from Capitol Hill. I fully expect to get a lot of people saying nice things, and I fully expect to get a lot of mean and nasty social media messages as well.

8. Comparing the old, the new, and 2.0 After two years of not having a voice that was ready for a trip to the grocery store – much less going on the radio – it is truly fantastic to have a way to get back on the radio. Yes, the voice is a bit robotic at times. But it is me. I can hear myself in these words. So, let’s look at how I sounded before, what I sound like now, and what Jamie Dupree 2.0 is like.

This news report is from February 28, 2016, at a Trump rally in Alabama. It was a giant crowd, and was one of my favorite reports from the first three months of 2016, when I was chasing the candidates all over the country.



What do I sound like now? I can get out words that sound okay, but not in any type of rapid fire way. If I am going to speak, it has to be very slow, and with a pen in my mouth to keep my tongue occupied (that is the source of my problem, a tongue which is not behaving properly, as it pops out of my mouth when I speak).



As you can tell from that audio, it is a struggle to say just about anything. So, we go to Jamie Dupree 2.0. It can say anything that I want (though four letter words don’t come out very well, just in case you were wondering). But, all I really want is to find my real voice again. Version 1 was better. But Jamie Dupree 2.0 is here, and this is what it sounds like.



9. Thanks to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). I can’t give any rundown on my voice without thanking Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. When she was elected after the death of Rep. Claude Pepper (D-FL), one of my company’s radio stations was in Miami, so I got to know her right away when she arrived in Congress in 1989. While Cox Media Group sold our news-talk station in Miami, I still kept in touch with Ros-Lehtinen in the hallways of the Capitol. She would hear me on the radio and happily chirp, “The most connected man in Washington!” When I told her of my voice problems late in 2017, she gave me a hug and said she would help. Her speech on the floor of the House in December drew attention to my problems, and spurred interest from news organizations. That’s how CNN’s medical unit got interested, and that’s how I found my way to Dr. Jinnah at Emory. I can’t thank Ros-Lehtinen, Speaker Ryan, and others for their help. It made a difference for me.

10. How do I feel about Jamie Dupree 2.0? Let’s be honest. I want to be able to speak normally. Even just somewhat normally. A friend texted me to ask, was I nervous about the new voice? I guess, a little. But if there is one thing that I take from the last two years, it’s that I never gave up. I kept working at my job. I kept searching for a medical answer. I’m still searching for that answer. The outlook was admittedly bleak at times, like in April 2017 when the doctor at the Cleveland Clinic told me that no one could even treat my neurological/voice disorder. Early on, I knew I couldn’t give up. I have kids who are only 9, 11, and 14. “I think everyone saw how passionate and how badly/deeply you wanted this,” my boss told me the other day. “He never let anyone see him sweat,” said my friend and colleague Dorey Scheimer.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to come down to our company’s headquarters in Atlanta – our CEO Alex Taylor wanted to see me. It turned out to be an event with several hundred people, where I was presented with the “Governor Cox Award,” named after our company’s founder, Taylor’s great-grandfather, James M. Cox. Taylor told the audience that because of my voice problems, I could have given up, I could have gone on disability, I could have quit my job. But I didn’t. His words meant a lot to me, and they have been echoed by many inside our company in recent weeks. I want to thank him, and many others for their support.

Finally, I want to thank all the listeners, viewers, readers, and fellow ham radio operators who have sent me expressions of support over the past two years. Your words of encouragement were a great source of strength.

I would also thank those of you who sent me nasty emails, and celebrated my voice troubles. I know you will be back to criticize my new voice.

But you know what? Those jabs make me work even harder to stay in the news arena.

And now, we go onward – with Jamie Dupree 2.0.

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Trump: Justice Department report wrong in finding no bias by FBI

Published: Friday, June 15, 2018 @ 10:58 AM

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House, Friday, June 15, 2018, in Washington.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House, Friday, June 15, 2018, in Washington.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump told reporters Friday that a Justice Department watchdog report issued one day earlier showed the FBI was plotting against him during the runup to the 2016 presidential election.

>> Read more trending news

In a wide-ranging interview on “Fox and Friends,” the president said the report showed people “at the top level” of the FBI were “plotting against my election.”

The 568-page inspector general report issued Thursday criticized former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while in office. However, the report did not find evidence that Comey was motivated by political bias or preference in his decisions.

“The end result was wrong. I mean, there was total bias,” Trump said on “Fox and Friends.”

He told reporters gathered on the front lawn of the White House that the inspector general report was a “horror show,” but he insisted that it “totally exonerates” him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to Trump and his campaign officials.

“What you really see is … bias against me and millions, and tens of millions of my followers,” the president said. “That is really a disgrace.”

Included in the report released Thursday were politically charged text messages sent between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The messages were critical of Trump and sent between Strzok and Page in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

>> Some missing text messages between FBI employees recovered, DOJ says

Strzok had been assigned to work on Mueller’s team, but he was removed from the investigation last summer after the anti-Trump messages surfaced. Page had already finished her stint on Mueller’s team by the time the messages were found, according to CNN.

Earlier Friday, Trump took to Twitter to slam Strzok and Page, pointing to a message Strzok sent in which he promised Page that “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president. The message was sent in August 2016 after Page asked Strzok whether Trump would become president, according to Cox Media Group’s Jamie Dupree.

>> From Jamie Dupree: Trump denounces Comey, Strzok, in wake of IG report

“No. No he’s not,” Strzok answered. “We’ll stop it.”

Trump criticized the exchange Friday, writing on Twitter that it “doesn’t get any lower than that!” 

Mueller’s investigation, launched in May 2017, has led to charges against several people connected to the Trump presidential campaign and its officials.

>> More on Robert Mueller's investigation 

The president’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has pleaded not guilty to a variety of money laundering and other criminal charges stemming from the probe. Five people -- including former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos -- have pleaded guilty to charges in the probe and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

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Sen. Brown, GOP opponent Renacci both support Trump on China tariffs

Published: Friday, June 15, 2018 @ 3:56 PM
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2018 @ 3:56 PM

US Sen. Sherrod Brown and his GOP challenger Jim Renacci
Bill Clark
US Sen. Sherrod Brown and his GOP challenger Jim Renacci(Bill Clark)

Sen. Sherrod Brown and his Republican challenger Jim Renacci hailed President Donald Trump’s decision Friday to impose $50 billion worth of imports from China, a move which could trigger a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

Brown, D-Ohio, who met privately this week with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, said “China’s cheating has shuttered steel plants across our state, put Ohioans out of work, and distorted global markets.”

“Today’s tariffs are in important step toward enforcing trade laws and making clear the U.S. will not allow China to cheat Americans out of their jobs,” Brown said.

RELATED: Ohioans against increased tariffs on Canada, Mexico; split on China

Renacci, a Republican congressman from Wadsworth, said “China has consistently proven it’s a bad actor when it comes to fair trade practices, and it’s about time they are held accountable.”

But support for the tariffs on China sparked a vigorous debate between the Brown and Renacci campaigns between which candidate has been tougher on China.

Rachel Petri, a spokeswoman for Brown’s campaign, said “it’s nice of Congressman Renacci to say ‘it’s about time’ China be held accountable on trade, but working Ohioans have been asking that of him for the last seven years he’s been in Congress supporting trade deals that put Ohio jobs at risk.”

Petri was referring to Renacci voting in 2011 to approve free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, all which were favored by President Barack Obama. None of those agreements had any impact on trade with China.

Leslie Shedd, a Renacci spokeswoman, said “since his first term in office” in 2011, “Renacci has been fighting to hold China accountable for their unfair trade practices,” adding “it’s embarrassing to watch Sherrod Brown desperately feign support for President Trump in election season when in reality he’s a consistent obstructionist to the president’s agenda.”

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows while 55 percent of Ohio voters favor higher tariffs on imported goods from China, support plummets to just 46 percent if the duties lead to higher consumer prices. By their very nature, tariffs lead to higher prices.

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