Gone but his pork is not forgotten

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Robert Byrd of West Virginia - the self-proclaimed "Big Daddy" King of Pork - never found it difficult to spend other people's money. The longest serving Senator in United States history died this week at age 92.

It's never proper to speak ill of the deceased, but Byrd held such a powerful position in Senate history that it's difficult not to mention his passing. For those of us who have long questioned Byrd's approach to federal spending, there are ample questions.

Having outlived virtually everyone else, Byrd reached a position of unprecedented power. And he freely used that power to reward friends and punish enemies. To cross Byrd was political suicide in the United States Senate.

Byrd's greatest achievement was bringing federal tax dollars back to his beloved West Virginia. Billions of federal dollars went through the Appropriation's Committee which Byrd chaired and many of those hard-earned tax dollars went to his state at the clear expense of other worthwhile projects elsewhere.

And for his generosity, countless pork projects today bear the Byrd name in West Virginia. He cared little of spending restraint and less of mounting deficits. If he could carry home the bacon to his home state, the nation be damned.

Byrd funneled $3.3 billion in pure pork to West Virginia from 1991 to 2008.

But to his great credit, Byrd was also a staunch defender of the Constitution regardless of which party held power. It's doubtful if anyone serving in the Senate knew more clearly the importance of the Constitution than Byrd.

But the West Virginia Senator will not be remembered for his Constitutional views but rather his approach to pork spending. It's impossible to think of Robert Byrd without thinking of pork.

Byrd was both proud and arrogant when it came to bringing home the federal dollars to his home state. He knew his popularity was secured on the home front when he siphoned tax dollars for countless projects. That popularity secured his political future and little else counted.

In recent years, Byrd became a poster child for term limits. Those outside of West Virginia railed long and loud about his selfish spending. Not one word of that discussion bothered Byrd. He handled his critics by banishing them to the graveyard of lost appropriations. To criticize Byrd was equal to seeing projects for your region abandoned.

And his critics knew that sad fact of political certainty.

Despite a lagging economy and record deficits, Byrd remained true to the end. He never saw a home-state project he couldn't support regardless of the larger picture of the entire country.

Robert Byrd will not be forgotten. But for some who support spending limits and smaller government, he won't be missed either.

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