Sen. Robert Byrd was many things during his more than 50 years in the Senate: orator, fiddler, lecturer and author of a multi-volume history of the Senate. But it is his role as an appropriator that leaves his name emblazoned across West Virginia — on highways, schools, even the world’s largest radio telescope.
If something was built with federal dollars in the state of West Virginia in the last half century, there is a good chance that Byrd helped get the funding — more than $3.3 billion over his career. And that is only what such watchdogs as the Citizens Against Government Waste can attribute to him. Recent years have seen disclosure requirements for pet projects that were unheard of when Byrd became a senator in 1959.
For the current fiscal year, Byrd had more earmarks worth more money than any other lawmaker: 89 earmarks for more than $250 million.
Getting money for his home state was a legacy of which Byrd was proud. A great defender of the separation of powers, he carried a copy of the Constitution, available at the Senate gift shop for a quarter, in his pocket at all times and would wield it in arguments in which he defended Congress as the rightful holder of the nation’s purse strings. A list of projects named for Byrd is listed on a website associated with a 2005 documentary about him called “The Soul of the Senate,” with which he cooperated.
But with the national debt soaring past $13 trillion and deficits projected for years to come, government spending is near the top of voters’ worries.