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Byrd puts career on line to fight quick fixes.

Sen.Robert C.Byrd (D-W.Va.) of Sophia, West Virginia, met with NLC Executive Director Don Borut and a group of other leaders late on Thursday evening in the offices of his Senate Appropriations Committee in the Capitol. It had been a long day. The Senator had successfully steered through the Senate an emergency supplemental assistance plan (See related story) to help not just the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago, but also to add urgent funds for summer youth employment, job training, and head start funds for all cities across the nation.

He had completed earlier that day a conference with the House and passage in the Senate of the conference report making over $7 billion in rescissions or cuts from current programs, but successfully rejected proposals by the House to cut already appropriated funds for cities and towns for the HOME state and local housing block grant program and the federally mandated municipal wastewater construction grants program.

Now he leaned across the conference table, a man with a streak of history and ornery courage that, along with his white mane, distinguish him from his 99 colleagues. He had invited the group to talk about what he believes could be the most important vote he will ever face in his 34 years in the U.S. Senate: a vote against a Constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget.

On this issue, the Senator said he would be willing to sacrifice his career.

And that is a career. Since his service in the war, Byrd has served in public office continuously since 1946--in his state House, state Senate, the House of Representatives, and, since 1959, in the Senate. In the Senate, he has served as both Majority and Minority Leader.

No one knows the rules, traditions, and history of the U.S. Senate better. Perhaps no senator cares more about that institution and its place in our democracy.

And it is that issue which Byrd finds so critical as the Senate nears debate on amending the U.S. Constitution.

He believes that this is an issue which would imperil the democratic process and risk turning over the most important decisions about how the nation sets priorities to the judicial system. It would remove one of the most fundamental rights of the American people.

It would be an abdication of responsibility. It would turn over to the courts one of the greatest responsibilities of elected office.

Byrd said, speaking of the responsibility he feels towards the next generation and towards his own five grandchildren:

"Prothaneus said: 'It was glory enough for him that he was a man of whom his grandchild not need be ashamed.'" The responsibility of elected office is to make affirmative decisions and be accountable for them. Senator Byrd believes adoption of this amendment would pass the buck, leading not only to deep disrespect in elected public office, but also blind cuts of enormous severity in the programs most important to the next generations of Americans in communities.
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Title Annotation:Leadership Profile; Senator Robert C. Byrd
Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 25, 1992
Previous Article:Minimum fire staffing defeated at meeting.
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