WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator in history, is stepping down from his cherished post as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Byrd, 90, has become increasingly frail in recent years, and the move didn't come as a surprise.
The West Virginia Democrat, first elected to the Senate in 1958, is a Senate icon and a legend in his own state, to which he has single-handedly been responsible for directing huge sums of federal largess for roads, universities and other projects. It was a perk of his powerful perch as chairman or top minority member of the panel for the past two decades.
Before that, he was the Senate's Democratic leader for 12 years.
Byrd said Friday that he had made the decision voluntarily, deciding it's time for new leadership on the committee, which is among the most important in Congress for its control over more than $1-trillion in federal agencies' budgets.
"A new day has dawned in Washington, and that is a good thing. For my part, I believe that it is time for a new day at the top of the Senate Appropriations Committee," Byrd said in a statement. He said he will remain as chairman of the subcommittee that writes the budget for the Department of Homeland Security.
Byrd will be replaced by Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye, 84, who has served in the Senate since 1963 and who also has a reputation for shipping federal dollars back to his state. Inouye said he was "humbled" at the prospect of taking over the panel in January when the new Congress convenes.