Will Bob Byrd Ever Come Back to the Senate?

I’m trying to be delicate. The man is 91 years old, and he has been hospitalized since May 15. According to Roll Call, he has now handed off his primary legislative responsibility:

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), hospitalized five weeks ago for an infection, will not be coming back to work this week, according to a statement from his office.

“Senator Byrd continues to improve but remains in the hospital while he undergoes physical therapy and treatment for a staph infection,” the statement said. “He is not expected to be in the office this week.”

Byrd, 91, is the Senate’s longest-serving Member and serves as its President Pro Tem, a leadership position that requires him to sign bills approved by Congress before heading to the White House. The statement released Monday notes the ailing Senator “is resuming some of his official duties while recuperating, including signing several enrolled bills as President pro tempore of the Senate.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), filling in for Byrd, will steer the fiscal 2010 Homeland Security appropriations bill on the floor later this week. Byrd chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security but missed the committee’s consideration of the bill because of his extended hospital stay.

The thing is, there’s no reason the Homeland Security Appropriations bill has to go through the Senate this week. If Harry Reid expected Byrd to be able to manage the bill anytime soon, he could defer consideration for several weeks. Perhaps Reid does expect him back in the Senate, but wants to protect his pride. Maybe Murray is taking the lead on the bill now to avoid the embarrassment of doing so when he is actually ‘healthy enough’ to return to the Senate.

Byrd has now had several lengthy hospital stays in the last few years. This time his staff won’t even disclose his current location; one wonders why they’re going to such lengths to hide the Senator.

It is now nearly 2 months since the last vote for which both Bob Byrd and Ted Kennedy were present. Assuming Al Franken is someday seated in the Senate, it is going to be extremely difficult for Harry Reid to muster 60 Democrat votes for any initiative – at least as long as Byrd and Kennedy are still alive and serving.