Senator Robert Byrd Becomes Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee

Byrd was the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee when the Democrats were in power from 1989 to January 6, 2009, when he stepped down because of concerns about his age and was succeeded by 84-year-old Sen.

Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii). Byrd was first appointed to the Appropriations Committee as a freshman senator in 1958 by then-Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas). Byrd also sits on the Armed Services Committee, the Committee on Rules and Administration and the Budget Committee.

In 1989, he was elected president pro tempore of the Senate -- a largely ceremonial post -- and named chairman of the Appropriations Committee. It was there that he began funneling federal projects and money to West Virginia in earnest. The first big salvo came in 1991, when FBI officials announced they would build their new fingerprint identification center just outside Clarksburg.

Now, dozens of projects bear the senator's name: the Green Bank radio telescope, the federal courthouses in Charleston and Beckley, the locks on the Ohio River at Gallipolis Ferry, a Clarksburg high school and numerous streets, libraries, health clinics, college departments -- a seemingly unending list. There's the Robert C. Byrd Freeway (Corridor G) and the Robert C. Byrd Highway (Corridor H), both part of the Robert C. Byrd Appalachian Highway System.

"Senator Byrd's ambition was legendary," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recalling how shortly after he first took his oath of office on January 3, 1959, the same day Alaska became a state, he told a local newspaper that he wanted to someday chair the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Thirty years later, he was — and then lived and served for 21 more."