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Leaders react to Byrd leaving Senate post

November 08, 2008

CHARLESTON, W.VA. - As one of West Virginia's most powerful politicians steps down from a coveted Senate post, political leaders across the state Friday talked about what may be next.

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who turns 91 this month, announced plans to step down as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

As chairman or ranking minority member of the committee for the last 20 years, Byrd helped steer vast amounts of federal money for projects in the state, earning him the affectionate nickname "Big Daddy."

The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste estimates that $2.3 billion in federal spending has been earmarked for West Virginia this decade.

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Top Democrats expressed their confidence that Byrd will continue to deliver for West Virginians, regardless of his committee assignments.

"Titles, schmitles," scoffed U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, the Democrat who represents the 3rd District. "Senator Byrd remains in a position of power."

Calling his colleague "an absolute giant of the Senate," Sen. Jay Rockefeller noted that Byrd will remain on the Appropriations Committee, which plays a key role in directing federal spending.

"He's comfortable the folks in West Virginia are going to be looked after, or he wouldn't have made this decision," state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey said.

The prospect of West Virginia losing federal dollars isn't worrying everyone. Republicans have long been critical of what they term pork-barrel spending, arguing it makes the state dependent on federal largesse and stymies the development of private industry.

"The only thing that might change is we may get fewer earmarks, and that's a change for the better," state Republican Party Chairman Dr. Doug McKinney said.

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