Treasury nominee to make Hill rounds before release of tax cut plans

The shakeup in President Bush's economic team could delay the introduction of the administration's economic stimulus package until mid-January, congressional sources said Monday.

Meanwhile, Bush Monday announced the nomination of CSX Corp. Chairman John Snow to replace Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who was forced out of his post Friday. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer declined to predict when Bush would offer his economic plan. "I would not rule anything in or out in terms of timing," he said Monday.

The administration for weeks has been compiling tax cut ideas that could be presented to Congress, and Bush is "continuing to review his options" as to the substance of any plan, he said. Fleischer said the president expects his advisers to "speak freely" and offer "unvarnished opinions."

Asked whether Snow would help develop the economic plan, which was already in the works at Treasury, Fleischer responded, "He may have some role," but Snow's first priority pending his confirmation was to make courtesy calls to Congress so he can "hit the ground running." Fleischer also dismissed reports that the White House intended to unveil an economic package as early as this week. "That was never in the president's plans," he said.

Congressional sources said the administration to date has floated a range of tax cutting ideas. Most of them are not new, sources said, and the administration has yet to significantly narrow its options. Among the proposals the administration is considering: reducing the "double taxation" of dividends and the rate of taxation on dividends; accelerating income tax rate cuts; making expiring tax cuts permanent; raising the deduction for capital losses; hiking retirement contribution limits; and increasing the amount of expenses that businesses can write off. "I don't think they've decided on anything specifically yet," a Senate GOP leadership aide said. "They're still working on trial balloons."

A House GOP aide said Snow would want to reach out to people on the Hill before unveiling a new package that he has not had time to review yet. "He's going to need to make some contacts before they move this," the aide said.

The Senate GOP aide said that for a stimulus bill to have sufficient impact, it must encourage major investors to take risks and create jobs. "They aren't the guys working on the factory floor. It's the guys that own the factories," the aide said.

Several Democrats are promoting a payroll tax holiday-an idea for inclusion in a tax cut package that has also been supported by the Business Roundtable, a group that Snow once headed. The Senate aide said administration officials and lawmakers need to assemble a package that would do what is necessary, while getting enough votes to pass. "There's what we need to do politically, so the Democrats don't come in and grandstand," the aide said.

Snow is not new to public service, having served in various agency posts during the Ford administration. In 1972, he was assistant general counsel at the Transportation Department. After leaving government service briefly in 1973 to teach, he returned to Transportation later that year, serving as deputy assistant secretary for policy, plans and international affairs and then assistant secretary for governmental affairs. He held the latter position for a year, becoming deputy undersecretary of the department in 1975. From 1976 to 1977, Snow was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Amelia Gruber contributed to this report.