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:
- Less than two months ago, June 28, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) passed away, after serving 51 years in the Senate. He was the longest-serving senator as well as the longest-serving member in the history of Congress.
- Last February, it was . He died three days into his 37th year in the House of Representatives. He was the longest-serving Pennsylvania congressman in history.
- And Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) passed away August 25, 2009. He had served nearly 47 years and was the second-most senior member of the Senate at the time (second to Sen. Byrd); the fourth longest-serving Senator in history.
- Sen. Stevens (R-Alaska) was the longest-serving Republican senator ever, with 40 years on the job. He departed the Senate January 3, 2009 after losing his bid for re-election.
Each man was a center of extreme influence and power.
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.
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.
Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News Investigative Correspondent based in Washington.