Nation and world news briefs

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McConnell says Senate to take up House’s PPP flexibility bill

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber would “soon” vote on a House bill passed last week that would add flexibility to a loan program helping small businesses survive the economic crisis caused by the novel coronavirus.

“I hope and anticipate the Senate will soon take up and pass legislation that just passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 417-1 to further strengthen the Paycheck Protection Program so it continues working for small businesses that need our help,” McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday.

The House passed a bill last week that would make a few tweaks to the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which offers companies forgivable loans that act like grants so long as the money is used mostly to pay employees.

The legislation would give small businesses more time to use the PPP funds and allow them to use more money for nonpayroll expenses.

The program, created as part of the roughly $2 trillion economic relief package passed in March, currently requires small businesses to spend the loans within eight weeks in order to have the debts forgiven. The House bill would lengthen that time to 24 weeks, reflecting the longer-than-expected duration of the coronavirus stay-at-home orders.

The legislation would also reduce an administration rule that requires borrowers to use at least 75% of the loans on payrolls to 60%.

—CQ Roll Call


Flynn judge defends refusal to rubber-stamp dismissal of case

The judge overseeing Michael Flynn’s prosecution defended his decision not to rubber-stamp the Justice Department’s dismissal of its case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington said in a brief filed Monday that he has the discretion to further consider the matter, which has sparked debate about the independence of both the judiciary and the Justice Department.

“The question before this court is whether it should short-circuit this process, forbid even a limited inquiry into the government’s motion, and order that motion granted,” Sullivan said. “The answer is no.”

Sullivan said the unique facts of Flynn’s case required that dismissal be weighed carefully, including the fact that the defendant was claiming innocence after repeatedly swearing under oath that he committed the crime. The judge also noted that the dismissal request was signed by a prosecutor not previously involved in the case.

The judge also said the government’s request cited “minimal legal authority” and omitted important facts. “For now, it suffices to say that the unusual developments in this case provide at least a plausible ‘reason to question’ the ‘bona fides’ of the government’s motion,” Sullivan said.

Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

—Bloomberg News


IRS fails to pursue thousands of rich tax cheats, watchdog says

The Internal Revenue Service is letting hundreds of thousands of high-income individuals duck their tax obligations, according to a government watchdog report.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that 879,415 high-income individuals who didn’t file returns cumulatively failed to pay $45.7 billion in taxes from 2014 to 2016 and that the agency hasn’t tried to collect from many of those taxpayers. The IRS didn’t input 326,579 of the cases into its enforcement system, and it closed 42,601 of the cases without ever working on them.

“In addition, the remaining 510,235 high-income nonfilers, totaling estimated tax due of $24.9 billion, are sitting in one of the Collection function’s inventory streams and will likely not be pursued as resources decline,” the report, released Monday, found.

The report defines high-income taxpayers as those earning at least $100,000. The IRS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but agency management in the report agreed with a recommendation to prioritize collecting from people who didn’t file tax returns.

Among those who haven’t paid their taxes are approximately 1,891 individuals who owe the IRS more than $1 million, according to the report. The number of people who have been failing to file tax returns — a crime that could come with steep penalties or as many as five years in prison — has been increasing in recent years.

—Bloomberg News


Forecasters start hurricane season watching a storm with ‘high’ chance of development

MIAMI — Monday marks the first official day of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, and forecasters are already monitoring a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico that has a high chance of becoming a tropical depression and possibly Tropical Storm Cristobal.

The “large” disturbance is near the west coast of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and is remnants of former Eastern Pacific Tropical Storm Amanda, according to the National Hurricane Center in West Miami-Dade.

Forecasters say the system “is gradually becoming better organized” and has a 90% chance of forming into a new tropical depression and possibly into Tropical Storm Cristobal in the next two to five days. The system is currently not a threat to Florida.

The disturbance was forecast to move west-northwestward over the Bay of Campeche later Monday, when environmental conditions are expected to be “conducive to support development” and a new tropical depression is likely to form by the end of Tuesday.

The system is then forecast to drift west or west-southwest over the southern Bay of Campeche through the middle of the week. Those along the coast of the Bay of Campeche should monitor this system as tropical storm watches or warnings could be required by Monday night, according to the hurricane center.

Regardless if it forms into a tropical cyclone, heavy rainfall is expected to continue over portions of southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize and western Honduras during the next few days, according to the National Hurricane Center.

—Miami Herald