Have the Senate Democrats decided to dump their most egregious porker from his leadership position? The Politico reports this morning that Robert Byrd may get pressured to leave his position as chair of the Appropriations committee, a move that could call into question his ability to function at all in the Senate. Pork has nothing to do with this move:
A group of Senate Democrats has begun quietly exploring ways to replace the venerable Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, believing he’s no longer physically up to the job, according to Democratic senators and leadership aides familiar with the discussions.
Under one scenario being circulated in Democratic circles, the 90-year-old Byrd would be named “chairman emeritus,” and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) would become “acting chairwoman” for the remainder of the 110th Congress.
Democratic insiders caution, though, that no decision has been made.
But there is broad discontent among committee members over the way Byrd has run the panel this year and the resulting problems in completing work on the fiscal 2008 spending bills, leading some members to privately push for Byrd’s replacement as chairman.
Byrd defiantly told the Senate earlier this year that he had no intention of ending his term in office, despite his physical frailty and obvious issues with mobility. Now, though, he seems less able to keep up with his duties on the committee. The budget battles have overwhelmed him, according to this report, and he may have contributed to them through his inability to effectively run committee meetings.
This comes while the Democrats have reeled all year from a series of losses against the White House, especially on budgetary matters. As The Politico notes in another article, they have not only looked incompetent in their inability to produce spending bills, but they have lost important battles when they have done any work at all:
Democratic policy priorities that liberals hoped would be included in the omnibus spending legislation were also left on the cutting-room floor.
Under a veto threat, Democrats removed the reversal of a long-standing anti-abortion provision, abandoned long-sought provisions that would have loosened travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and deleted a line item demanded by unions that would have required federal contractors to pay union wages in disaster areas like New Orleans.
What remains is a smattering of modest policy advances and spending increases on health care, education and transportation that Democrats are touting as the appropriations bill makes its way to the president.
While Democratic leaders have been forced to make the difficult concessions that will enable Congress to adjourn before Christmas, liberals are starting to snipe away, believing their party caved in too easily to an unpopular president.
In the wake of a humiliating 2007, Democrats will want answers for their failures. Byrd makes a good starting point. Even in the best condition, the Senate's close split would challenge an Appropriations chair. If Byrd's performance has declined as badly as the Politico reports, the Democrats obviously need to make a change.
But to whom? And how? Booting Byrd out of his chairmanship will undoubtedly offend his supporters in The Robert Byrd State of West Virginia (recently renamed in an earmark), a state they need in the 2008 election. It would also be an admission that Byrd should have retired before now altogether. The heir apparent, Patty Murray, may be more capable than Byrd, but she's also the same Senator that extolled Osama bin Laden's support for education -- a poor choice for a spotlight leadership position, especially in an election year.
Byrd should have retired before his last election, and the RBSoWV voters should have sent him back to the Robert Byrd Retirement Home with honor and dignity. The Democrats have to swing the axe to get more out of this critical committee chair; he can only hope that they're using a Robert Byrd model to do it.