- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) — The Senate Finance Committee Thursday unanimously supported John Snow to become the next Treasury secretary, and members urged the full Senate to follow suit.

"For this first time in recent history, we have a vacancy in the Treasury Department. There has been a gap in service. That gap needs to be closed. As long as that vacancy remains, our markets wonder, our global trading partners speculate, and the president is denied his principle economic policymaker," stated committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

His sentiment was echoed by Max Baucus, D-Mont.

"With the future uncertain, it is important for our country to have a Treasury secretary in place to help tackle the difficult challenges ahead," Baucus said.

But Snow's approval by the full Senate may take some time, given that a letter was presented to President Bush earlier in the day signed by more than 200 lawmakers, asking him to refute Treasury's proposal to allow corporate employers to switch workers' defined-benefit pension plans to a cash balance plan. Critics argue such a conversion could lead to benefits for older employees to plunge. But others have stressed that the issue should not be politicized, and not be tied to Snow's appointment.

A hearing with the former head of railroad group CSX was held Tuesday, where Snow made clear that if approved, he would be the chief spokesman and cheerleader for the Bush administration, actively defending the White House's efforts thus far to bolster the economy.

"We must continue to move toward policies that will generate economic growth and more good jobs and rising living standards for all," Snow said, adding that the White House proposal for tax cuts and economic stimulus "should add another 500,000 additional jobs by the fourth quarter of this year." Snow said.

Earlier this month, Bush unveiled an economic stimulus plan that included the elimination of double taxation on corporate dividends, which he argued would give investors a greater incentive to buy stocks. That, in turn, would raise share prices by about 10 percent from current levels and potentially boost consumer spending.

But critics have argued that the bulk of dividend income goes to higher-income households. Indeed, according to the Internal Revenue Service's latest available data, 63 percent of dividend income that was taxed was earned by those who earned over $100,000.

Another issue of concern is the growing budget deficit, particularly as the prospects for increased spending loom large with a potential attack on Iraq.

Snow would be replacing Paul O'Neill, who resigned at the end of last year.

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