- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

The gavel comes down hard, filling the small room with a loud gunlike report to signal the hearing's beginning.
Some chairmen use their gavels timidly, rapping feebly, using the microphone to amplify the message they are too insecure to relay.
But this is Robert C. Byrd.
The senior senator from West Virginia. Second only to Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, in age and tenure. The Senate's president pro tempore. Literally, author of the Senate's history.
And with the Democratic takeover of the Senate, Mr. Byrd, 84, is again chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"In some ways, [the circumstances] are new," Mr. Byrd said, sitting in the chairman's office.
Then, he pauses for thought.
Six seconds pass and he resumes. "This is the first time the majority of the Senate has changed midway through the session."
And so it goes: A conversation with Mr. Byrd is a slow, meticulous walk. He cannot and will not be rushed.
He has been called the embodiment of what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they created the Senate. Others have called him an anachronism.
In a March 1999 letter thanking Mr. Byrd for complimenting one of his speeches, former Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, wrote that Mr. Byrd is "a man future generations will regard as 'The' Senator."
"He is a person of great skill, ability and dedication," said Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican.
He remains a silver-haired orator at a time when many of his colleagues are mastering the sound bite. A stickler for proper procedure when others would just as soon bend the rules. Look no further than the red vests he wears with his suit to know that he is no victim of modern trends.
But where some see dignity others see stiffness. While his words and he has a prodigious vocabulary are almost always formal, his motives are no more noble than any other parochialist, they say. And there has been no one more able to twist the Senate into knots with the same rules Mr. Byrd has vowed to uphold.
Mr. Byrd so thoroughly tied up the Senate during its debate of unfunded mandates legislation in 1995 that Majority Leader Bob Dole, Kansas Republican, coined the phrase "Byrdlock."
"Byrd is like an alligator. He lies still, but everybody knows that in one second, he can eat you alive. That commands a lot of respect, because the Senate runs on the power of anticipated reactions," said John J. Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.
The quote is just one of many that adorn the walls of Mr. Byrd's office, a near museum that holds everything from his notes on the Roman Empire to a copy of his Dec. 31, 1937, pay stub of $40.
Mr. Byrd began his political career serving first in the West Virginia House, then Senate. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1953 and served there until being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958. He immediately joined the Senate Appropriations Committee but did not serve as its chairman until 1989. When he took the position, he said, his five-year goal was to bring $1 billion in federal money to West Virginia, according to Congressional Quarterly. He beat that goal by three years.
Resuming the chairmanship this spring was bittersweet, Mr. Byrd said in an interview in his new office.
On the one hand, he is glad to be chairman. On the other, he is stuck writing 13 annual appropriations bills constrained by a budget resolution that he has opposed and thinks is "unrealistic."
With the control of the Senate split so closely, Mr. Byrd said, there is little chance of changing the budget, which leaves him no option but to stick to that plan.
So far he has done just that. His committee has passed, with few substantial changes, President Bush's supplemental spending request for fiscal 2001 and set allocations for the 13 annual spending bills for fiscal 2002 that meet the budget.
He has done so with the help of the committee's former chairman, Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican. "He has every reason to do so, because I have relied on him," Mr. Stevens said Friday.
The two are close friends.
They have had disagreements, the most recent of which was over a 10-year, $1.3 trillion tax cut. But they trust each other implicitly and are a formidable force against anyone who would buck the committee.

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