WASHINGTON — Rep. David Obey, the chairman of the powerful House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday that he wouldn't seek re-election this year because he was "bone tired" after a 41-year congressional career.
"There is a time to stay and a time to go," the sometimes-gruff 21-term Wisconsin Democrat said at an emotional news conference. "And this is my time to go."
First elected in an April 1969 special election, Obey championed traditional liberalism, opposed the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and went along only reluctantly with President Barack Obama's troop increase for Afghanistan. He's a close confidant of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who put him in charge of designing last year's $787 billion economic-stimulus legislation and shepherding it through the House.
As Appropriations chairman, Obey oversaw hundreds of billions in annual federal spending, and for years he's had a hand in almost every major piece of legislation that rolled through Congress. He's the third longest-serving member of the House.
Obey, 71, said he wasn't necessarily in a hurry to leave.
"Frankly, I hate to do it," he said. "But even more frankly, I am bone tired."
Obey hasn't had a serious challenge to his seat since 1994, but some political analysts said he faced a potentially difficult race this year with Republican Sean Duffy, an Ashland County district attorney and a former cast member on MTV's "The Real World" reality show.
Duffy is "a young, aggressive, articulate conservative," said Stuart Rothenberg, the editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan publication. "Obey was vulnerable this time because Congress was active and Obama had an ambitious agenda."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that Obey would have won re-election had he run. He won in 2008 by 61-39 percent.
Pelosi hailed Obey as a "transformational figure in Congress. He is a visionary for a better life for the American people, and a legislative genius. For nearly half a century, he's been an indefatigable reformer."
Obey's decision came at a precarious time for congressional Democrats, who are bracing for sizable losses in November's elections after two years of bruising partisan battles on Capitol Hill.
So far 17 Democrats and 20 Republicans have announced that they'll leave Congress at the end of this session to retire or seek higher office.
Republican officials cheered Obey's exit.
"It's understandable that the architect of President Obama's failed stimulus plan has decided to call it quits," Ken Spain, the communications director of the National Republican Campaign Committee, said in a statement. "It is ironic that a congressman who became infamously known for his short temper and angry tirades on the House floor is going out with such a whimper."
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