AUSTIN, Texas – Retired U.S. Rep. J.J. "Jake" Pickle (search), who helped pass major Social Security reform in the 1980s and was a senior Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee during three decades in Congress, died Saturday. He was 91.
Pickle died at his home, his family said in a statement.
He was elected in 1963 to the House seat Lyndon B. Johnson (search) once held. As chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, he helped pass Social Security reform in 1983 that eased the system's financial woes by raising the age for full benefits from 65 to 67.
On his first day in Washington as a newly elected congressman, President Johnson sent a limousine to greet Pickle at the airport with a surprise invitation to sleep at the White House.
Pickle refused, explaining he had already lined up accommodations with a friend.
"I was raised in West Texas. If you accept an invitation, you're going to do it, you know. So I did it," Pickle said later.
His home phone number was always listed, and he returned to Austin most weekends to answer calls. The nonstop Braniff flight from Washington to Austin was nicknamed "The Pickle Express," and he was known to work the aisle as if each flight were a political rally.
"Other than the long commute to and from Washington and, starting in the 1980s, the increasing partisanship of Congress, there was little I didn't like about being Congressman Pickle," he wrote in his 1997 book, "Jake."
Pickle was a Naval officer during World War II, serving in the Pacific. He survived three torpedo attacks. He returned to Austin after the war and, with other veterans, started a radio station, still known as KVET.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry (search) said Pickle's "strong, steady hand helped shape the Central Texas area we so love today."