Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida was first elected in 1970.
(Photo: Mark Wilson, Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida, the longest-serving Republican in the House, died Friday, his staff announced. He was 82 and had been hospitalized in recent weeks at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, recalled how lawmakers would seek Young's counsel, chatting with the Florida congressman at his favorite spot in the corner of the House floor.
"There was good reason for this," Boehner said in a statement. "Here was a man who had seen it all and accomplished much. Looking out for our men and women in uniform was his life's work, and no one was better at it. No one was kinder, too."
Young, first elected in 1970, is best known for his longtime service on the House Appropriations Committee, where he was influential in securing millions of dollars for military contracts and special projects in his district and throughout Florida.
Young's success at securing federal dollars for pet projects, known as earmarks, made him a target of government watchdog groups and fiscal conservatives who wanted to rein in government spending. Congress in recent years banned earmarks, after outcry about their cost and proliferation.
He had already announced he would not seek re-election in 2014, telling the Tampa Bay Times in an interview last week, "it's my time" to retire. Young had also cited his health - he had chronic back problems for years and underwent open heart surgery in 1996 - and a desire to spend more time with his family.
Known as a genial and moderate Republican in an increasingly shrill and partisan House, Young came to Washington in 1971 after serving in the Florida Senate - including a stint as the chamber's minority leader.
His willingness to work across the aisle with Democrats initially cost him the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, which he didn't take over until 1999. Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich had passed over Young for the chairmanship after the 1994 "Republican Revolution," even though Young had the seniority to lead the panel.
When his six years as full committee chairman were over, Young resumed the gavel of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee - which made him a key player on Pentagon spending for the last few years.
Young's death represents an opportunity for Democrats to win Florida's 13th Congressional District, centered in St. Petersburg and Clearwater. President Obama narrowly won the district last year by about 5,000 votes. After Young announced he would not seek re-election, the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report declared the district a "tossup," meaning it is winnable by either political party.
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