The infamous "King of Pork" Steps Down from Chairmanship of Appropriations Committee


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The infamous "King of Pork" Steps Down from Chairmanship of Appropriations Committee

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Senate legend Robert Byrd, approaching 91 this month and hailing a “new day in Washington,” said he would voluntarily give up the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee with the new Congress.

“To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven,” said Byrd, who had fended off earlier challenges this past spring and summer. “Those Biblical words from Ecclesiastes 3:1 express my feelings about this particular time in my life.

“I have been privileged to be a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee for 50 years and to have chaired the committee for ten years, during a time of enormous change in our great country, both culturally and politically,” Byrd continued in a statement released by his office. “I have learned that nothing is quite so permanent as change. It is simply a part of living and should not be feared.”

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who is 84, will take over for Byrd on the powerful panel, which oversees hundreds of billions of dollars annually in federal spending. Byrd will officially hand off the gavel on Jan. 6, 2009.

Byrd’s announcement today provides a graceful ending for him and Democrats to what had become an increasingly tense situation over his ability to manage the panel given his age and failing health. After protecting Byrd earlier this year from calls for his ouster, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had been prepared to force the issue, when the party met to organize for the 111th Congress this month, but had always hoped that the chairman would act voluntarily first without being pushed.

This is what happened, Byrd’s staff told Politico, and it is a rare act in fact, since elderly chairmen are often famously resistant to giving up power in such situations.

Inouye told Reid recently that he wanted to take over the committee, after giving mixed signals last year when the issue of ousting Byrd was first raised. Inouye’s willingness to take up the gavel is seen as critical in Reid’s decision in pushing Byrd to step down.

Inouye has attracted some private criticism from his Democratic colleagues in recent weeks over his public supported for now-convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Inouye testified at Stevens’ public corruption trial, and he released a statement just two days before Election Day saying he would seek to block Stevens’ expulsion from the Senate if a resolution was brought to the floor. Inouye and Stevens have served together in the Senate for decades, and the two World War II veterans call each “brother,” their relationship is that close.

Byrd will remain a member of the Appropriations Committee and expressed hope that he will continue to chair the Homeland Security subcommittee.

In making his announcement, Byrd had kind words for Barack Obama.

“To be serving in the Senate at such a momentous time in our history fills me with enormous pride,” Byrd said. “I endorsed President-elect Obama because I believed that we had taken the wrong course both at home and abroad. I am delighted with his victory. I was an early critic of the war in Iraq, as was the president-elect, who decried this war even before he was running for a United States Senate seat. I wish our new president every success with his commitment to unite us as one people."

In addition, Byrd will remain president pro tempore of the Senate by virtue of his seniority as the longest serving Democrat. That will mean he still remains third in line for the presidency, behind the vice president and speaker of the House.

Byrd was famous for his ability to steer billions of dollars in federal spending back to West Virginia, and he has never apologized for his willingness to do so, calling that a critical job for senators and members. But with a new Congress and a new administration, Byrd says he is ready to move on.

“A new day has dawned in Washington, and that is a good thing. For my part, I believe that it is time for a new day at the top of the Senate Appropriations Committee,” Byrd said.

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