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Senate tax plan would eliminate deduction used by 26% of Ohioans

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 6:00 PM
Updated: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 6:00 PM


            From left, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speak at a news conference as work gets underway on the Senate’s version of the GOP tax reform bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
            J. Scott Applewhite
From left, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speak at a news conference as work gets underway on the Senate’s version of the GOP tax reform bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)(J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Republicans want to end to a key tax provision that allows millions of Americans to deduct the amount of money they pay in state, local and property taxes from their annual federal income tax returns.

As part of a plan unveiled Thursday to overhaul the federal tax code for the first time since 1986, Senate Republicans call for ending a deduction that 44 million American households use to reduce the federal taxes they pay. In return, the GOP promises to lower individual tax rates for most Americans.

The decision by Senate Republicans to end the deduction is likely to provoke an intense battle not only with Democrats from large states with high state and local taxes, but also the House, where GOP lawmakers would only allow people to deduct as much as $10,000 in property taxes from their federal income tax returns.

RELATED: House panel approves tax reform bill

In an interview on Bloomberg TV, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said “federal taxpayers should not be subsidizing states that want to have higher taxes. If that’s what they want to do, that’s fine.”

“And second, I do think if you look at state and local taxes it is something that is relatively regressive,” Portman said. “In other words, over 50 percent of the benefit goes to people making over $200,000 a year.”

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said ending the deduction will “be a three-alarm fire for every House Republican in California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, and Illinois, Colorado, and Minnesota.”

“Senate Republicans are telling House Republicans that there will be no compromise on state and local deductibility,” Schumer said in a floor speech. “It’s full repeal or bust because Senate Republicans need the revenue raised by ending this popular middle-class deduction.”

RELATED: Senate bill would undo reductions

A report by the Government Finance Officers Association, which represents state and local government finance officers, concluded that 26 percent of Ohio households use the state and local deduction on their tax returns. By contrast, 35 percent of California households use the deduction and 34 percent in New York.

By scrapping the deduction, the federal treasury would save $1.3 trillion during the next decade — savings that help Republicans finance reductions in corporate and individual tax rates.

The Senate released its plan as the House Ways and Means Committee approved the House GOP tax bill by a vote of 24-16. The full House is expected to vote on the package next week.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump “applauds” Senate Republicans for releasing their plan, saying “we will continue working with Congress to deliver tax cuts and reforms for hard-working Americans by the end of the year.”

In a floor speech, Portman called the bill “an opportunity … to finally fix our tax code. And it is broken.” Portman said if the bill becomes law, “we’re going to create more jobs and higher wages.”

Like the House bill, the Senate GOP plan reduces the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, although the Senate delays that reduction until 2019.

RELATED: Budget office warns of uninsured Americans

The bill creates seven individual tax brackets compared to just four in the House bill. The Senate brackets range from a low of 10 percent to 38.5 percent for the wealthiest taxpayers. The other five brackets would be 12 percent, 22.5 percent, 25 percent, 32.5 percent and 35 percent.

The plan retains current deductions for home mortgage interest, 401 K retirement contributions, charitable contributions and medical expenses. Both the Senate and House measures end the personal exemption, which allows taxpayers to take a $4,050 exemption for every family member.

The standard deduction, which is the amount people who don’t itemize can deduct from their income, would nearly double to $24,000 a year for married taxpayers and $12,000 for those who are single filers. Currently, the standard deduction is $12,700 for married couples filing jointly and $6,350 for single taxpayers.

The increase in the standard deduction is designed to simplify the code. If Americans choose the new higher standard deduction, they could not take deductions such as home mortgage interest. But they would be able to file their taxes on a single card.

The Senate plan could add as much as $1.5 trillion to the nation’s publicly held debt during the next decade. Portman and other GOP lawmakers say the tax reductions will spark the economy and generate more tax revenue, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that even without any change in tax laws, the federal government will add a staggering $10 trillion to the publicly held debt during the next decade.

Michael Peterson, president and chief executive officer of the Peterson Foundation, a non-profit in Washington, D.C., that champions lower deficits, said “this bill passes the buck to the next generation,” adding that “voluntarily adding another $1.5 trillion to our national debt is going in the wrong direction.”

Michael Dulman of the Washington Bureau contributed to this story.

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Senate OKs $116 million for massive NASIC project at Wright-Patterson

Published: Monday, June 18, 2018 @ 6:36 PM
Updated: Monday, June 18, 2018 @ 6:36 PM

‘60 Minutes’ previews story about NASIC and Wright-Patt

The Senate late Monday passed a $716 billion defense bill that included $116 million expansion of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center - one of the largest projects in Wright-Patterson’s recent history.

By a vote of 85-10, the Senate passed its version of the defense bill, which authorizes defense programs for the 2019 federal spending year that begins in October. Both Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted in support of the bill.

The House version of the defense bill, which passed last month, authorized $182 million for the full NASIC project, but it would be paid out or appropriated over a number of years starting with $61 million in the first year.

RELATED: Some of U.S.’s most secretive work will be done in new NASIC building

The differences between the two versions will have to be worked out in a conference committee before a final appropriations bill is passed.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, whose district includes Wright-Patterson, had pushed for authorization of the entire construction cost.

The Air Force had asked for $116 million in its initial budget request and was expected to ask for the remainder in future years, according to a spokeswoman for Portman. Portman’s office had initially indicated the senator would pursue additional funding, but the Air Force had requested the additional amounts in 2020-2023, a spokeswoman said.

The expansion is expected to relieve overcrowding at the secretive intelligence center, where some employees share desks and work in shifts. NASIC has added about 100 people a year between 2000 and 2015, spokeswoman Michelle Martz said.

Loren B. Thompson, a Virginia-based senior defense analyst with the Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said with the return of great power competition with Russia and China, NASIC’s intelligence analysis will be in growing and greater demand and bring “total job security.”

“Making China and Russia the focus of our military strategy increases the importance of what NASIC does. After all, terrorists and insurgents like the Taliban don’t have air forces or space programs, whereas China and Russia do,” he said in an email.

He added that NASIC “is central to understanding the state of aerospace technology from missile defenses to stealthy aircraft in the countries that will likely remain America’s key competitors through mid-century.

“China and Russia are the only two countries in the world that have the ability to destroy the U.S. economy, and perhaps our democracy, with their nuclear arsenals,” he said. “So working at NASIC in the years ahead is likely to offer the closest thing to total job security that you can find in modern-day America.”

Saves jobs at Research Lab

Separately, the defense bill also blocked the transfer of a manufacturing technology office with 55 jobs from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson to the Pentagon.

The Pentagon had planned to move the office, which had been at Wright-Patterson since 1987, last Oct. 1, archives show. But Brown sponsored a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act to keep the jobs at Wright-Patt.

RELATED: Stealth bombers, UFO rumors among base’s first 100 years

Brown and three of his congressional colleagues had sent a letter last August to Secretary of Defense James Mattis warning the move could lead to “disorganized and haphazard development” of future programs and put at risk dozens of active projects.

Brown praised the inclusion of the provision in the defense bill Monday.

“The workers at the Lab have the deep institutional knowledge and experience we need to continue making these defense manufacturing investments, and to oversee the program to ensure current projects are successful and cost-effective,” he said.

Charlie Ward, chief of the AFRL manufacturing and technologies division, said in a statement there were no plans to move the manufacturing and industrial technologies division to Washington.

CONTINUING COVERAGE

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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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