Washington — A moderate right-of-center administration is taking shape here as President-elect Ronald Reagan's Cabinet-designates testify before Senate committees.
A pattern of cautious conservatism is appearing, modified by practical realities not visible in the election campaign.
The prospect is for confirmation of most of the nominees, with one possible exception: a showdown battle over James G. Watt's nomination to the post of secretary of the interior that could test the political authority of the new administration.
Significant to date:
* Treasury Secretary-designate Donald T. Regan agreed that he may not be able to balance the budget till the fourth year in office instead of the two or three years previously discussed.
* Caspar W. Weinberger, secretary of defense-designate, said it will be at least six months before America can resume strategic arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union, and that the US currently lacks military capacity to support President Carter's commitment to protect the Persian Gulf region.
* Richard S. Schweiker, booked for the Cabinet post of health and human services, took issue with his party's platform for wholesale return of welfare programs to the states. He said his first priority will be ensuring the soundness of the social security system.
* John R. Block, the Illinois farmer and director of the state's agriculture department who was picked for agriculture secretary, in effect reiterated disavowals of an earlier statement that food products should be used as weapons in foreign policy, and was not questioned on controversial proposals to limit the food stamp program.
* Malcolm Baldridge, the man Mr. Reagan wants as commerce secretary, told still another Senate confirmation committee that he would be the businessman's voice in the Cabinet and that "we should deregulate from top to bottom." On the question of ending the Carter grain embargo against the Soviet Union, which became an emotional issue in the farm belt in the campaign when it was attacked by Mr. Reagan, Mr. Baldridge declined to comment. The new administration appears to be weighing this, like other campaign issues, against practical realities after taking office.
Meanwhile, Reagan completed selection of his Cabinet Jan. 7 with the choice of Terrell Bell, Utah's higher education commissioner, for secretary of education. If confirmed, Mr. Bell goes to a department that Reagan wants abolished.
Bell served in the Ford administration as commissioner for education from June 1974 to August 1976. He then advocated a separate education department, which Reagan criticized in the campaign. The two men met for half an hour here Jan. 6 at Blair House, and the objective now seems to make the department an independent commission, like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Meanwhile, belief strengthens that Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr., former close associate of Richard Nixon, whose designation as secretary of state roused controversy, will be confirmed without serious difficulty.
On the other hand liberals and environmentalists center attack on James G. Watt, picked as secretary of the interior. Mr. Watt, a passionate supporter of private enterprise, spent seven years at the US Department of the Interior and three at the Federal Power Commission where he aggresively espoused private development, later acting as lobbyist for the US Chamber of Co mmerce against the federal Clean Water Act.