WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US Senate's oldest and longest-serving member, Robert Byrd, announced Friday he was stepping down as chairman of the appropriations committee.
For the last 10 years, the 90-year-old Democratic dean from West Virginia has headed the committee which helps the government decide how to spend its money.
Byrd, re-elected for his ninth Senate term in 2006, has spent nearly 50 years as a committee member and senator, casting a record 18,000 ballots as of last year.
"A new day has dawned in Washington, and that is a good thing," Byrd, who endorsed Illinois Senator Barack Obama this year in his successful quest for the White House, said in a statement.
"For my part, I believe that it is time for a new day at the top of the Senate Appropriations Committee," Byrd added. He will step down on January 6.
I endorsed President-elect Obama because I believed that we had taken the wrong course both at home and abroad. I am delighted with his victory."
Byrd has served in the Senate since January 1959 and has long since renounced his youthful dalliance with the Ku Klux Klan, the secret, white supremacist group which has terrorized blacks and other minority groups since immediately after the US Civil War.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he and other senators "accept (Byrd's) decision with tremendous gratitude for his outstanding tenure as chairman."
Replacing Byrd as committee chairman will be Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.
When the new session of Congress gets underway in January, Democrats now are set to control 57 of the Senate's 100 seats, including two independents who generally vote with the Democrats.
Senate races have yet to be called in three races, making additional Democratic gains possible.
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