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Bush delays deadline for tax panel's report

Reuters | June 16, 2005

By Caren Bohan and Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON - The timetable for President Bush's effort to overhaul the U.S. code was pushed back by two months on Thursday, as the White House grappled with a crammed legislative agenda.

An advisory panel named by Bush in January to study ways of revamping the tax system was given an extension of its deadline until Sept. 30. Originally, the panel had been instructed to report back by July 31.

In a statement, the tax panel said, "We were on track to issue our report by July 31. Nevertheless, we are comfortable taking additional time to complete our work."

Although the panel could have wrapped up its work on time, the administration felt that with a series of other initiatives under debate in Congress and the August recess approaching, "there is little capacity for public focus" on the tax issue right now, Treasury spokesman Taylor Griffin said.

"The administration and Congress are focused on a broad range of key presidential and congressional priorities over the remaining five weeks of the summer legislative session," Griffin said.

He cited a bill to rewrite U.S. energy policy, Bush's Social Security initiative and the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement, among other proposals.

"Given this full agenda, the White House and the Treasury jointly recommended the panel delay its report until September so that this key presidential and congressional priority is given the attention it deserves," he added.

Led by former Sen. Connie Mack, a Florida Republican, and former Sen. John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat, the panel has held hearings on such options as a switch to a national sales tax or flat income tax or keeping a version of the current income tax and finding ways to reduce some of its complexity.

The panel will offer its recommendations to Treasury Secretary John Snow, who will then report to Bush.

Bush, who calls the U.S. tax code a "complicated mess," had listed tax changes as one of his top domestic priorities for a second term, but he opted to push an overhaul of Social Security first and is facing strong resistance to that effort on Capitol Hill.

When Bush kicked off the Social Security push, some Republicans suggested he switch gears and pursue tax-reform first.

But the tax-reform proposals have the potential to stir controversy as well. Bush has said he wants any proposals to be revenue-neutral, the changes would involve winners and losers as some businesses and households would face higher tax burdens while others would get a lighter burden.

One difficult issue the panel is likely to try to tackle is the alternative minimum tax, a levy that was intended to make sure the wealthy pay enough taxes, but has increasingly ensnared middle-class taxpayers.

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