Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Demanding Life of a Senator

I don't recall Senator Byrd, when he was seeking re-election, telling the voters of West Virginia that he might not be up to the more physically-demanding tasks of a Senator, such as getting on the train for the 300 yards to the Capitol for a vote:

Just days into his tenure as majority leader, Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) received a tongue-lashing from Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) for a decision to end a vote before the senior statesman had cast his "yea" or "nay."

Byrd, who has served in the Senate since 1958 and is a noted stickler for the rules and etiquette that guide the chamber, was unable to make it to the floor in the 15 minutes allotted for a vote yesterday -- his first missed vote since March.

"The leadership arbitrarily closed the vote before I could get to the floor," Byrd told the Associated Press. "That is not the way legislation is done in a body such as ours."

Had he made it to the floor on time, Byrd would have cast the 17,780th vote of his career. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, played down the controversy, insisting that the majority leader has "nothing but the highest regard for Senator Byrd."

Since the 110th Congress was convened last week, Reid has emphasized his intention to run the body more efficiently, a plan that includes limiting votes, which often have lasted a half-hour or more, to just 15 minutes. An e-mail sent Monday to the offices of Democratic senators reiterated the point.

At 89, Byrd is slowed by a neurological condition known as benign essential tremor and uses two canes to get around the Capitol. On Friday, he tripped while on the Senate floor but was quickly pulled to safety by former senator John Glenn (D-Ohio), who is 85.

Byrd's age and physical condition were an undercurrent in his reelection race in November, though Byrd dismissed its import. The voters of West Virginia agreed and elected Byrd to a ninth term with 64 percent of the vote.

In his own 'defense,' Byrd says that the Senate 'never was intended to be an efficient body.' Perhaps each vote should last a random amount of time then, to ensure greater inefficiency.

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