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Lawsuit Reform a Bush Priority

The Treasury Department yesterday appeared to put tax legislation on a faster track than the administration initially indicated. Treasury spokesman Robert Nichols said a yet-to-be-named tax reform panel will be expected to quickly report recommendations to Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, who will forward his reform proposals to Bush in early 2005. Administration officials had earlier said the secretary's recommendations probably would reach the White House late next year for a legislative push in 2006.

In a brief interview, Snow said that the timetable has not been changed, and that the tax panel will take time to hold hearings and gather facts.

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"We're going to look at everything," he said. "We're going to look for the very best ideas out there."

But for the secretary to turn those ideas into recommendations early next year, the panel will have to work fast.

Treasury Department officials have a wealth of tax reform proposals from Bush's first term to draw on, including one that fits many of the ideas endorsed by yesterday's panelists. Those ideas include repealing the alternative minimum tax, establishing generous new savings accounts that would effectively end investment taxation for almost all Americans, simplifying tax rates and allowing most business investment to be fully deductible. Those changes would be paid for by ending the deductibility of state and local taxes and taxing health insurance and Social Security benefits as income.

At a separate session in the Oval Office yesterday, Bush reaffirmed his support for a strong dollar and pledged to work to roll back deficits in order to create a stronger economic climate for the U.S. currency. He noted that the interest rate increase the Federal Reserve approved on Tuesday indicated Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's concern as well.

"The policy of my government is a strong-dollar policy," Bush said, with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at his side. "We believe that the markets should make the decision about the relationship between the dollar and the euro." He added: "We'll do everything we can in the upcoming legislative session to send a signal to the markets that we'll deal with our deficit, which, hopefully, will cause people to want to buy dollars."

Staff writers Jeffrey Birnbaum and Peter Baker contributed to this report.

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