ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE -- Democratic and Republican negotiators appeared to be moving closer yesterday to an agreement that would make a significant dent in the federal deficit.
"They are narrowing the gap," said one official close to the negotiations. "There's a long way to go and it could still all fall apart, but I see grounds for optimism."
In a hint of a possible breakthrough, President Bush has invited the negotiators to the White House for a meeting this morning. Officialssaid the session could be canceled if they do not have significant progress to report, but as of last night they were still planning to meet.
Budget bargainers have set a target of cutting spending and raising taxes by enough to slash the fiscal 1991 deficit by $50 billion and to save roughly $500 billion over the next five years. But it was not clear whether they could achieve such an ambitious goal.
In a day of intense bargaining, Democrats were moving closer to the GOP position that the Pentagon budget should not be hacked abruptly during the Persian Gulf crisis, sources said. Democrats had originally proposed as much as $15 billion in military cuts next year, while Republicans wanted to hold the reductions to about $4 billion. But bothsides were still looking at ways to achieve substantial military cuts over the next few years.
According to aides who spoke only on condition of anonymity, the two parties were looking at about $10 billion in cuts from benefit programs such as Medicare and farm subsidies. When )) the talks began Friday, Republicans proposed more than $15 billion in such cuts, while Democrats suggested reductions limited to just more than $7 billion.
Without an agreement, the deficit for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1 is expected to soar to as much as $250 billion.
Both parties have proposed raising taxes and fees by roughly $25 billion next year, but they continued to have widely different ideas about how to hit that target.