House Appropriations Chairman Obey Announces Retirement

Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee David Obey, D-Wis., announced his intention to not seek re-election in 2010 on Wednesday. Joined by wife Joan and sons Craig and Doug, Obey said he wanted to spend more time with his family, and that after almost 42 years in Congress, “I’m bone tired…. It’s time to pass the torch.”

Obey also noted that he was now an old man, and that while he did not know what he was going to do next, “I do know that there has to be more to life than explaining the ridiculous, accountability destroying rules of the United States Senate to confused, angry, and frustrated constituents.”

Obey came to Congress in 1969, assuming the seat vacated by Melvin Laird, who left Congress to become President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Defense, and he reflected back on his years there and his proudest achievements. Chief among those was presiding over the House’s vote on health care legislation in late March. “We got the job done,” Obey said, “I haven’t done all the big things that I wanted to do when I started out, but I’ve done all the big things I’m likely to do.”

Obey also said that an unlikely source prompted him to stay in Congress far longer than he had planned: President George W. Bush. He recounted a White House meeting with the president and the heads of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. According to Obey, the appropriators had put together a package for security spending that exceeded the amount requested by the White House, to which he says, the president objected. “Even though it had bipartisan support he didn’t want to listen…. I thought it was going to be a moderate, thoughtful administration. I thought (Bush) had a good sense of humor and would be good to work with. He does have a good sense of humor.”

His comments were not without the trademark barbs that have made the at times irascible Chairman a legend on Capitol Hill. On the man who would have been his competition in November: “there isn’t the chance of a snowball in Hades of that progressive Congressional district electing someone who is a poor imitation of George Bush’s policies on a bad day.” On the news media: “I am also increasingly weary of having to deal with a press which has become increasingly focused on trivia, driven at least in part by the financial collapse of the news industry and the need, with the 24-hour news cycle, to fill the air waves with hot air.”

Obey eventually walked back his comments on the press, saying that he had “a great deal of respect” for the press.

Interrupted several times by applause from the members and staff in the audience, Obey received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his press conference.