There reportedly are mutterings around Congress that Sen. Robert Byrd
cannot properly manage the upcoming wartime spending bill. But whoever is complaining about the 90-year-old senior Democratic senator from West Virginia isn't doing so publicly.Politico reports
today that some Senate Democrats, specifically Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., are worried that Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, may not be up to the task
of getting the spending bill done. He has been hospitalized twice so far this year, once for a fall and the second time for a reaction to antibiotics he was taking for an infection. Spokesmen in both Durbin and Dorgan's offices emphatically deny they are part of any coup to oust Byrd from the committee. Most in the Senate speak of Byrd like they would a grandfather, with some being fiercely loyal to the longest-serving U.S. senator - publicly, at least. Roll Call (subscribe) reports
that Byrd is coming to his own defense and placing "strategically placed calls to influential lawmakers." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Wednesday downplayed speculation that the tough old Byrd would be replaced on the appropriations committee, The Hill reports
, saying he would continue to head the powerful panel "until something else comes up."
It wasn't long after Byrd's hospital stays that reports were swirling
about senior-level discussions among top aides over who would replace Byrd in the Senate and on the powerful appropriations committee. Sen. Daniel Inouye, the 83-year-old Democratic senator from Hawaii and chairman of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, could be a favorite. But CQ says
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., could be a backup should Byrd not be able to work the wartime bill through the appropriations process. Murray and others apparently have been taking on extra duties to help lessen Byrd's load.
"We're all doing our job so that he can do his," Murray said, according to CQ. "The future role of Sen. Byrd will depend on Sen. Byrd."