President-elect Barack Obama's smooth transition process hit a snag less than a week before his historic swearing-in as questions over his choice for treasury secretary delayed the confirmation hearing for that key post.
Obama's pick for attorney general also was expected to face aggressive questioning Thursday, as it became increasingly apparent that not all Cabinet choices would earn quick approval from Congress.
Obama had been hoping to have all his Cabinet members confirmed by Tuesday, or Inauguration Day, which would have allowed him to have a team up and running shortly after he takes office in the midst of an economic crisis and two wars.
Several have been well received, including former rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, who could be confirmed as secretary of state within hours of Obama's taking the oath of office Tuesday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee planned to vote on her selection Thursday.
But the transition toward Obama becoming the 44th U.S. president hit an embarrassing bump Tuesday when Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner owned up in a closed-door session with senators to failing to pay $34,000 in taxes from 2001 to 2004.
The oversight has been corrected, but Senators on Wednesday pushed back his confirmation hearings by at least a week.
And Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Eric Holder, Obama's choice for attorney general, promised to be the most contentious so far among Obama's Cabinet choices amid questions over some of his past decisions. They include roles in awarding clemency to Puerto Rican separatist bombers and in Bill Clinton's controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.
However, lawmakers have indicated they expect both men to be confirmed in the end.
Obama on Wednesday called the disclosure about Geithner's taxes embarrassing, but an innocent error.
"It is a mistake that is commonly made for people who are working internationally or for international institutions. It has been corrected. He paid the penalties," Obama said. "My expectation is that Tim Geithner will be confirmed."
The tax revelations derailed Senate Democrats' plans to speed him to confirmation as treasury secretary so he could be sworn in on Inauguration Day, after the Senate's No. 2 Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl, objected to a hearing this Friday at the Senate Finance Committee.
Now, Geithner's confirmation hearing isn't scheduled until next Wednesday, with Senate debate and a vote some time after that.
Still, Democrats and Republicans on the panel voiced strong support for Geithner, who was phoning senators individually to persuade them that his tax problems were the result of innocent mistakes, not deliberate attempts to avoid paying the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. tax agency.
Geithner was not the first Obama nominee to face controversy. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew his name on Jan. 4 as Obama's Commerce secretary after questions surfaced about an ongoing federal investigation into how political donors landed a lucrative transportation contract.
Attorney general nominee Holder was guaranteed a Republican grilling before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Along with his role in Clinton administration pardons, while he was the No. 2 Justice Department official, Holder also faces questions over his role in awarding clemency to Puerto Rican separatist convicted of bombing a federal building in Manhattan in 1982, and in the 2000 government raid that led to the return of a Cuban boy, Elian Gonzales, to his homeland over the objection of many Cuban-Americans in Miami.
A number of other Cabinet appointees were also being vetted by Senate committees on Wednesday. Among them was Environmental Protection Agency appointee Lisa Jackson, who pledged to revisit Bush administration decisions on gas emissions blamed for global warming, among other issues.
They also included Obama's choice to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, who was the Army's first four-star general of Japanese-American descent. As Army chief of staff, he helped lead the Army's transformation to a lighter, more mobile force. He retired in 2003, shortly after clashing with the Bush administration on war policy.
Obama has broken with protocol observed by most of his predecessors who largely stayed out of the public eye until taking office, arguing that the economic perils facing the United States require that he and Congress must be ready to move vigorously as soon as he is inaugurated.
In addition to moving quickly on his Cabinet picks, Obama's economic team has been working on a stimulus plan to revive the lagging economy. Work continued throughout the Capitol on pieces of the recovery package in hopes of unveiling the bill to lawmakers and the public as early as Thursday.
The Obama plan originally was supposed to cost $725 billion to $775 billion, most of which would reach the economy over the next three years. Now, aides involved in ongoing talks said Wednesday, the measure would cost about $850 billion, with tax cuts in the range of $300 billion to $325 billion.
Obama also has been seeking access to the second half of the $700 billion bailout package designed to prop up the country's wobbly financial system.
Use of the first $350 billion from the huge fund, conceived in the face of a near financial collapse in September, has drawn heavy criticism from the public and Congress for a disproportionate focus on big financial institutions to the detriment of homeowners facing home mortgage foreclosure and smaller institutions and businesses.
On Wednesday, a top Democrat in Congress disclosed that Obama's economic team supports spending between $40 billion and $100 billion from the remaining bailout fund specifically to reduce the number of house foreclosures.
Associated Press writer Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed to this report.