Sen. Byrd’s passing marks end of an era

Published 3:50 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The passing of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) marks the loss of a distinguished and highly successful American lawmaker. The senator’s passing should be mourned. It might also be used as the trigger for an effort in the Senate to reduce the sort of pork barrel legislation for which Byrd was justly famous.

Noted for such coups as getting a Coast Guard facility for land-locked West Virginia, Byrd was a master at using his longevity, power and prestige to steer federal dollars to his home state. For West Virginians, it was a real boon. For Americans everywhere else, it was not so good, because many of the senator’s pet projects were of debatable national value. And his example inspired other lawmakers to pursue the same sort of home crowd-pleasing legislation. The net affect of it all was to drive up federal expenses and, of course, taxes.

It’s long past time for the Senate (and the House) to get serious about eliminating pork barrel politics. There might be no better memorial to Sen. Byrd than to say, in effect, that with his death the mold was broken and it will no longer be business as usual.

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A Congress that focuses on essential business, and less on getting re-elected and pleasing the home folks, would be a tremendous final gift to the nation.