WASHINGTON – Just minutes before departing Monday on yet another cross-country tour to sell President Bush's tax cut proposal, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans told Fox News that he is still pressing to pass the president's $726 billion tax cut plan in its entirety.
"We're going to continue to fight for all elements of the president's plan ... all elements of the plan," Evans said.
The words are a departure from Bush's seeming resignation that he would not get his entire package, apparent in a Rose Garden speech last week. At that event, Bush appeared to accept the amount the House had passed as part of its fiscal 2004 budget resolution.
"The nation needs quick action by our Congress on a pro-growth economic package. We need tax relief totaling at least $550 billion to make sure our economy grows," the president said at the time.
Evans' comments came on the same day that Treasury Secretary John Snow hinted in The Wall Street Journal that the Bush administration was willing to pare back the tax cut proposal this year if Congress would agree to do more in future years.
"What the markets want to know is that you get to 100 percent," Snow said.
Evans' remarks in fact represent a new strategy by the White House. He and at least 29 other Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials are on the road with the mantra "at least $550 billion in tax relief now."
The mantra — and now the commerce secretary — suggest that the administration will continue to push hard for all the tax cuts it can get for now, will push for the rest later, and may even break out some parts of the original plan to present them as free-standing legislation.
"You know, you start getting down to the technicalities of it, and what you're talking about is just within the process of the budget resolution. You can implement tax legislation outside of the process of the budget resolution. Right now, the way its structured is that within the budget resolution process we can get at least $550 billion of the $726 [billion] that the president has requested," Evans said.
Evans said eliminating double taxation on market dividends is the top priority for stepping up the economy. Increasing child tax credits and eliminating the marriage penalty — both popular steps — could be passed later individually.
But Evans may be thinking wishfully. Though the House passed a $550 billion tax cut plan as part of its budget resolution, the Senate — where Republicans hold a razor-thin margin —- pared that number down to $350 billion in order not to lose the tax cut package altogether. To get $550 billion in tax cuts from the Senate, the president would need 60 votes — a very unlikely event.
The Bush administration is still giving it another go while Congress is out on Easter break. Officials are continuously talking about the benefits of the plan and its importance in getting the economy growing to its full potential.
Evans said when Congress returns, he suspects lawmakers will have heard from their constituents and "realized the importance of passing a tax package, an economic growth package, realize again the importance of creating jobs in this economy."
Fox News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report.