There have long been rumblings that Senate Democrats no longer believe Robert Byrd (D-WV) capable of fulfilling his duties as Appropriations Committee chairman. There have been backroom whisperings that the time had come to push him aside and allow someone younger and more energetic to take the reins -- even if Byrd remained the nominal chairman of the committee. Now it seems that time has come:
The Senate Democrats met during their weekly leadership meeting that includes the elected party leadership, as well as a broader group of regional whips and officers. Byrd's diminishing health was not the reason for the session, sources said, but came up during the Senators' discussion about the upcoming debate over a $100 billion-plus supplemental spending bill on Iraq.
Byrd, 90, has been in and out of the hospital in recent weeks, and he missed a series of votes before the spring recess. Concerns have been mounting for some time about his ability to handle his appropriations duties, but so far, Senate leaders have been unwilling to take action.
One high-level Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Senators on Tuesday raised "serious concerns about his ability to handle his appropriations work, especially with the upcoming hearings on the supplemental.
"They are struggling to try to figure out how to deal with the situation."
Officially, it's not yet been decided that Byrd will see his workload lightened, but it seems things have reached a tipping point. Options under discussion include relieving Byrd of his chairmanship, or naming him 'Chairman Emeritus' while another senior Democrat takes over the panel.