Senator Robert Byrd has died. The Democrat was the longest-serving member of Congress in history -- serving 51 years in the Senate plus six years in the House. Byrd represented West Virginia. But his death may have effects far beyond that state's borders. As the Senate prepares for a close vote on financial regulatory reform.
The financial reform seemed pretty final. Is it in jeopardy now?
It could be. Senator Byrd was expected to vote for the bill, which was going to be close.
And Republican Senator Scott Brown -- who was elected earlier this year to fill Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts -- announced over the weekend that he may oppose the bill because he doesn't like that it's being paid for by a $19 billion tax on large financial institutions.
Now Brown was not the only Republican to support the bill when it passed the Senate in May.
There were three others, and a couple of Democrats voted against it, so there is some wiggle room if the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can convince someone who voted against the original bill to support the final bill.
Also, at some point -- it's not clear when -- the Democratic governor of West Virginia will appoint a successor to Senator Byrd until a special election can be held to replace him.
But President Obama wanted to sign the financial reform bill by the 4th of July, so there's not a lot of time for that to happen.
Whoever gets appointed to Senator Byrd's seat has some big shoes to fill --
especially in West Virginia -- Byrd is a legend there.
Absolutely. It takes a long time in the Senate to get the kind of clout and power that Robert Byrd had. And it's the kind of power that can really impact a state's economy. He brought numerous federal offices to West Virginia, including an FBI Fingerprint Center, IRS offices, a NASA research lab, even a Coast Guard facility despite the fact that West Virginia is a landlocked state. And West Virginians just loved him for bringing home all those federal dollars. These days, you don't have to go very far in West Virginia to find something named after Senator Robert C. Byrd.
"He's had a really big impact on the state. West Virginia is one of only two states with more than 50 percent of the economy being government spending. Everywhere you drive around people jokingly call them 'Byrd droppings' -- they're all around the state, things with his name on them," said Russell Sobel, professor of economics
at West Virginia University. "We've got projects around here that have been funded with federal dollars for a very long time."
How will Byrd's death affect West Virginia?
Sobel says Byrd's death does present a legitimate question "about whether getting rid of that government spending is going to be a net positive or negative when we look out into the future for the economy."
"Firms here are going to have learn how to compete in the private sector for private dollars instead of competing for grants. But more importantly, we need to get our state business climate improved so that we can have the private-sector growth that will help to replace the federal funding," he says.