Byrd "Under the Weather"
The Senate's leading anti-war Democrat, Robert C. Byrd (W. Va.), is ill and did not run a meeting of lawmakers this afternoon that hammered out a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the more than $120 billion supplemental spending bill for the Iraq war and other key issues.
Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was supposed to be leading the meeting of House and Senate appropriators, who crafted a compromise plan for language calling for a withdrawal from Iraq. Instead, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of the committee and also a member of Democratic leadership, ran the House-Senate conference committee.
Substantively, Byrd's absence made no difference to the conference, but stylistically and symbolically, the senator's long stem-winding speeches on the Iraq war have become the stuff of legend among anti-war liberals.
The conference committee approved a supplemental bill that requires benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet in order to show progress, according to The Post's Jonathan Weisman, who attended the conference late this afternoon. Even if the Baghdad government meets all benchmarks, U.S. troop redeployment would begin on Oct. 1, 2007, with a complete end to combat operations by the end of March 2008, according to Weisman.
The two chambers are expected to pass the measure later this week - setting up a certain veto from President Bush and likely a new round of negotiations.
Byrd's office put out a statement saying he felt "a bit under the weather" and wouldn't make the critical meeting.
It's the second time in the past few weeks that Byrd has stepped aside to let Murray take the public spotlight on committee affairs. Murray managed much of the debate on the Senate floor in the last week of March when the chamber passed its version of the supplemental.
Byrd, 89, won a record ninth six-year term last November. Missing work is not something Byrd - the longest-serving senator in history - does often. As his office notes on his web site: "Throughout his career, Byrd has cast nearly 17,800 roll call votes -- an amazing 98.7 percent attendance record in his nearly five decades of service in the Senate."
His statement indicated Byrd would be back in the chamber for the supplemental debate later this week. It did not indicate whether he would manage the debate on the floor.
Here's the statement from his office:
Statement from U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd
WASHINGTON, D.C.... U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., will not participate in tonight's House-Senate conference on the supplemental appropriations legislation. The following statement from the Senator was released prior to the conference meeting.
"I have been feeling a bit under the weather for the past few days. Per the advice of my doctor, I will be resting at home today. As a result, I will not be attending the conference meeting tonight on the supplemental, and have asked Senator Patty Murray to chair in my place. I look forward to getting back to work and participating in the Senate debate on the legislation later this week."
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