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On Losing Lions and Tigers: The Deaths of Stevens, Byrd, Kennedy and Murtha

With the passing of former Senator Ted Stevens, it's interesting to note how much institutional knowledge has left Congress in a relatively short period of time:

Each man was a center of extreme influence and power.

FILE - In this May 20, 2010 file photo, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., readies his microphone as he arrives to question panel members on Capitol Hill in Washington, during the Senate Health and Human Services subcommittee hearing on mine safety. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a fiery orator versed in the classics and a hard-charging power broker who steered billions of federal dollars to the state of his Depression-era upbringing, died Monday, June 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) AP

Consider that Sen. Byrd defeated Sen. Kennedy as Senate Majority Whip and went on to become Senate Majority Leader. For 21 years, he was third in line of presidential succession as president pro tempore. Perhaps most importantly, in terms of influence, he chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee for many years. That gave him control over billions of dollars in taxpayer money, much of which he steered toward his home state of West Virginia.

Rep. Murtha spent years as chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. Lording over billions in defense spending, he was perhaps single-handedly responsible for turning his adopted hometown in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, into an unlikely home base for defense contractors who wanted to do business with the government.

Sen. Kennedy was Senate Majority Whip before Byrd, and also chaired powerful committees including Senate Judiciary.

** FILE ** In this Feb. 19, 2008 file photo, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, listens to questions from members of the Capitol press corps., following his address of the state legislature, in Juneau, Alaska Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator, has been indicted. (AP Photo/Chris Miller, File) AP

And like Byrd and Kennedy, Sen. Stevens was his party's whip. Like Byrd, Stevens served as president pro tempore and chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee for years, directing massive sums of taxpayer dollars to his home state of Alaska.

The long careers of each member were marked by accomplishments and controversies. On the controversies, there are many: the public may associate each man with a single word or acronym. Byrd: KKK. Murtha: ABSCAM. Kennedy: Chappaquiddick. Stevens: Corruption.

People may argue as to how each man's presence is missed in Congress. But however they are viewed, the collective loss is remarkable: 175 years of Congressional experience -- gone -- in just one year and seven months' time.


In this Feb. 19, 2008, file photo, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, listens to questions from members of the Capitol press corps., following his address of the state legislature, in Juneau, Alaska. Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, died in a small plane crash in Alaska, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. He was 86. <br><br> <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/08/10/national/main6760220.shtml?tag=stack" class="linkIcon read"><b> Spokesman: Ex-Sen. Ted Stevens Dead in Crash</b></a> Chris Miller
Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News Investigative Correspondent based in Washington.
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