The Public Interest

Congressional despots, then and now

Fred Barnes

Summer 1990

SENATOR Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was working at his Capitol Hill office one March day in 1990 when an aide rushed in. “Bob Byrd’s here,” the aide said. Lott was puzzled. “You mean Senator Bob Byrd?” he asked. Yes, the aide said. Robert Byrd (D-West Va.)--a senator since 1959, the Senate majority leader until 1989, and now chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee—was standing in Lott’s outer office. He wasn’t in the habit of casually dropping by to chat with other senators, particularly freshmen like Lott. And Byrd hadn’t come for small talk this time either. He gave Lott a hand-written note, asking for his vote on an amendment to the Clean Air Act reauthorization. Byrd was deadly serious about the amendment, which would have provided lucrative benefits to coal miners who lost their jobs because of new environmental restrictions on high-sulfur coal, the kind mined in West Virginia. The average displaced coal miner would have drawn $41,000 the first year. If Lott voted with him, Byrd made it clear, he’d look favorably on Lott’s requests for pork barrel for Mississippi. If Lott didn’t—well, the implication was clear.

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