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"Zoe Baird' questions arise for court front-runner

President Clinton put off an announcement of his first selection to the Supreme Court until next week as questions arose about front-runner Stephen Breyer's reported failure to pay Social Security taxes for a domestic employee.

As anticipation about the president's choice mounted Saturday, press secretary Dee Dee Myers said Clinton would not be rushed into one of the most important decisions of his presidency.

She gave no hint that delays were associated with potential problems with Breyer, 54, chief judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

However, CBS reported Saturday night _ after Myers' remarks _ that Breyer failed to pay Social Security taxes for a domestic worker and that a delay has developed as the White House makes informal inquiries among senators as to whether that would cause them to oppose Breyer.

The report did not say how much in taxes Breyer failed to pay, or when, but said he has paid them retroactively. CBS also said the White House had been aware of the potential problem for some time and did not believe it would be a serious barrier to confirmation.

However, Sen. William Cohen, a member of the Judiciary Committee that passes on nominees had a different view.

"If that's the case it's going to present a problem for the president," said Cohen, R-Maine. "Obviously, the women's groups will be somewhat outraged to the extent that Zoe Baird couldn't be confirmed as attorney general and Kimba Wood was withdrawn, or withdrew herself (because of similar circumstances).

"I don't know the facts of this entirely _ my understanding is he paid retroactively _ but it would create a problem in terms of the differences in treatment between men and woman," Cohen said on CNN. "I think it would create a problem for everyone on the committee to the extent it is seen as favoring a male nominee."

At a briefing earlier Saturday, before the Social Security tax matter became public, Myers said Clinton "spent a lot of time in the last 24 hours on Somalia and I think in light of that he feels he would like to take a little more time to reflect on the Supreme Court."

Clinton's choice for a replacement for Justice Byron White had been widely expected to come last week.