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The House this week turns its attention to President Bush's proposals to ease the tax penalty on marriage, double the $500 child tax credit and abolish the estate tax, with Republican leaders promising votes on two more tax-cutting bills by early April.

If those measures are passed — possibly augmented by items suggested by lawmakers — the House would embark on its annual spring recess having passed the bulk of Mr. Bush's 10-year, $1.6 trillion package. The heart of that plan, the $958 billion income tax cut, was sent to the Senate last week.

"We are just beginning to provide real and lasting tax relief to the American people who pay the bills," said Rep. Bill Thomas, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Thomas, R-Calif., acknowledged Thursday the difficulty of holding to Mr. Bush's $1.6 trillion figure. Many Republicans want greater relief from the tax marriage penalty than Mr. Bush recommended and are pushing for a bipartisan bill raising contribution limits on IRAs and 401(k)s.

GOP leaders also want to make sure the House-passed $958 billion, across-the-board income tax cut will not force middle-class taxpayers to pay the complex alternative minimum tax, which Democrats say would cost $200 billion to prevent. And some upcoming components of Mr. Bush's plan could be made retroactive — which also raises the price — to put more money in consumers' pockets sooner amid signs of a worsening economy.

The White House acknowledged Friday that the administration is working with lawmakers to adjust the plan so that more components could take effect in 2001. Also Friday, the Treasury Department estimated that at least 17.4 million small businesses and entrepreneurs who don't pay corporate income taxes would benefit primarily from the House-passed income tax cuts, many of them through proposed cuts in the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33.0 percent.

Thomas compared the challenge of meeting the $1.6 trillion figure to "putting a pound and a half of sugar into a one-pound bag." But he added: "I think we might be able to get that done."

A sliver of breathing room could be provided by the GOP budget blueprint, which Thomas said would include a slightly higher tax cut figure of $1.62 trillion over 10 years. Congressional rules make it easier to pass tax cuts that stay within budget limits and more difficult to exceed them.

The Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing next week on major components affecting individuals in Mr. Bush's package, including his plans to ease the tax penalty paid by millions of two-income married couples, gradually eliminate the estate tax and double the $500 child credit. Those items are the leading candidates for March and April tax bills on the House floor.

The Bush Tax Plan
What's In It For Me? Find out how much you could save this year and once the tax plan has been fully implemented.
Democratic leaders, meanwhile, said Mr. Bush's tax cuts would do little to boost the faltering economy because much of the tax relief occurs later in the 10-year period. They suggested that Mr. Bush has "talked down" the economy to justify tax cuts but did not propose the kind of upfront relief to middle-income people that would help the most.

"The tax cut ought to be more front-loaded and it ought to be aimed at the large middle-class public and not skewed to the top," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

A Treasury Department analysis of the income tax cuts in Mr. Bush's plan shows that just over 45 percent of the total dollar relief would go to taxpayers with incomes above $100,000 a year.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was among the lawmakers suggesting a "rolling" tax cut that would be in effect for a set number of years and then re-examined by Congress under those future economic conditions. Such a tax cut could immediately return more money to people than Bush's plan in its first year.

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president thinks the tax cut he proposed "is an economic recovery plan to help create broad growth in the economy."

"The president continues to believe that all recent reports make it even more important for Congress to pass his plan," Fleischer said.

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