Early this morning, Robert Byrd, Democratic senator from West Virginia, passed away at age 92. He was hospitalized last week with extreme dehydration, but the exact cause of his death hasn't been released. The longest serving Senator, Byrd held office for over 50 years and was known as a master of Senate procedure.
Byrd's death throws a possible wrench into finance reform. The Democrats need 60 "yes" votes for a filibuster-proof majority. There are 59 Dems and independents who caucus with the Senate democrats. So far, two Democrats voted against the bill in May and aren't expected to change their vote. With the loss of Byrd, who did not cast a vote on the legislation in May, that leaves 56 "yays," not enough to prevent a filibuster.
Four Republicans (Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Susan Collins of Maine, and Charles Grassley of Iowa) did vote yes on the bill in May. But Brown had a change of heart this weekend and will not support the bill in its current form, as it contains bank taxes added at the last minute. Byrd's absence means Democrats will have to push even harder to get Brown on their team once more.
The Atlantic suggests three possibilities: Negotiators could drop the bank tax, which would get Brown back onboard, presumably; they could work to get the two Dems who voted against to change their votes; or, finally, they could delay the vote until after Byrd's successor is announced.
According to West Virginia law, Byrd's replacement will hold his seat until 2012. The Governor of West Virginia, Joseph Manchin III, is a Democrat, so the partisan makeup of the chamber likely won't be altered.
The vote on the bill was expected to come as early as Tuesday, but lawmakers may hold off a few days out of respect for Senator Byrd's passing.
Write to Julie Steinberg