The lawyers who President Bush now wants to tighten travel rules wrote plans last year to loosen them so that spouses of White House and Cabinet officials could travel more at taxpayer expense.

White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray and his staff proposed that the government pay for travel by spouses of Cabinet-level officials so long as the trips involved "official spousal activities," according to documents made available to The Associated Press.Those activities would include events with first lady Barbara Bush; attending receptions or similar functions and speaking engagements where the spouse was representing the U.S. government; or traveling in support of the Cabinet member's mission, domestically or overseas.

In such cases, the government would supply transportation in one of its cars, boats or airplanes or pay for commercially available rides.

"Although these spouses are not employees of the federal government . . . certain activities on their part have an official government purpose and may appropriately be supported by the government," Gray said in a Nov. 27 draft memo.

The documents show that late last year Gray's office considered changing the policy with a presidential order. But the proposal never reached Bush's desk, White House officials told The AP.

Instead, the White House staff changed strategy and decided to quietly approach Congress to make the change legislatively, administration sources said.

It was not known whether the White House was dropping the spouse travel proposal in light of the flap surrounding chief of staff John Sununu's trips.

An administration source said House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., was receptive to the idea, because spouses of lawmakers are allowed to travel with their husbands or wives under certain conditions.