Republicans are privately considering whether to back off their promise to find enough spending cuts to balance the federal budget in seven years.
Key GOP budget experts have warned that it will be politically impossible to balance the budget by 2002 - as the House Republicans vowed in their “Contract with America.”
“What we’re saying (to them) is that we can make a substantial downpayment over the next five years toward a balanced budget,” said an informed Republican Senate staff member, “but we don’t think we can hit the final target.”
The development would be an embarrassment to the Republican majority in Congress, which has been touting its commitment to a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget.
The amendment is expected to be voted on in the House in about two weeks and later in the Senate. GOP leaders have put off releasing a detailed budget plan until after the House vote on the amendment for fear that the specifics could scare away votes.
Politically popular programs - such as Medicare, student loans and pension benefits - would almost certainly be affected if Congress tried to balance the budget, which this year is running a deficit of $176 billion.
One moderate Republican said Wednesday that “firm and final decisions” have not yet been made about the extent of budget cuts.