Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are pushing to restore $5.7 billion of the $8.6 billion in federal highway funds that President Bush proposed cutting in fiscal year 2003.

Environment Committee Chairman Jeffords (Photo courtesy of the Office of Sen. James M. Jeffords)

On June 4, the committee approved a bill that would set the highway obligation ceiling for 2003 at $28.9 billion, which is $5.7 billion above the highway spending that Bush recommended in his budget proposal.

Committee Chairman James M. Jeffords (Ind.-Vt.) said the bill results from negotiations with the Budget and Appropriations Committees and distributes the additional highway money to states by existing formulas.

Going a step further, the panel added an amendment from Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and John Warner (R-Va.) to put all of the $5.7 billion under the protection of the budget "firewall" contained in the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. Baucus said the $5.7 billion should be dedicated to highway and mass transit programs.

A source said committee members intend to try to add an amendment to the $31-billion supplemental spending bill being debated on the Senate floor that would lock in the $5.7 billion figure and the firewall safeguard.

The supplemental measure now restores a range from $4.4 billion to $5.7 billion in additional highway aid next year and doesn't have a firewall provision.

The House has approved bills that authorize restoring $4.4 billion for roads in 2003.