At 91, Byrd "energized" and back at Senate

October 20, 2009 11:33:05 AM PDT
West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd reappeared on the Senate floor Tuesday with some of his old bluster back after a season of frailty, this time to manage a $44.1 billion homeland security spending bill.

"There are some people in this country who have become complacent about the threat of another attack," Byrd, chairman of the homeland security subpanel of the vaunted Appropriations Committee, said in a clear voice. "Don't count me as one of them."

Don't count him out, either.

Byrd, 91, is the longest-serving senator in history and has come back from debilitating illness before. Last year as chairman of the full Appropriations Committee, lobbyists and others spread rumors that he was too frail to continue to serve in that capacity. Byrd, who had weakened physically, stepped down from the chairmanship when he was ready - after the 2008 elections.

He retained his chairmanship of the subcommittee, however, which is what brought him to the floor Tuesday looking more alert and steady than he has at other points in the year. The matter at hand was a House-Senate spending agreement on security measures against natural disaster, terrorist attacks and other threats.

Byrd spoke from a wheelchair in a clear voice, rather than stand. He held up fingers as he ticked off his priorities that helped shaped the legislation. He appeared engaged in the proceedings, looking from other speakers to the clock and cocking his head toward an aide who whispered in his ear.

It wasn't long ago that colleagues worried that the dean of the Senate was near death. Byrd spent the spring and summer fighting life-threatening infections, most recently after suffering a fall at his home in Northern Virginia.

He attended a Capitol ceremony honoring the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and on Sept. 10 delivered a tearful tribute on the Senate floor to his one-time rival and longtime friend. Byrd chaired a hearing on the homeland security spending package Oct. 7, and spoke on the Senate floor last week questioning the wisdom of sending more troops to Afghanistan.

His spokesman, Jesse Jacobs, said his boss was off antibiotics and continues physical therapy.

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