House Appropriations Chair David Obey To Retire Democrat David Obey, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has decided to retire after 20 terms. He easily won re-election in 2008, but was facing a challenge this year during a time of notable voter disenchantment with incumbents, especially leaders. Obey was known as an old-bull liberal and behind-the-scenes dealer, with a combustible temper and a taste for blunt candor.
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House Appropriations Chair David Obey To Retire

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House Appropriations Chair David Obey To Retire

House Appropriations Chair David Obey To Retire

House Appropriations Chair David Obey To Retire

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Democrat David Obey, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has decided to retire after 20 terms. He easily won re-election in 2008, but was facing a challenge this year during a time of notable voter disenchantment with incumbents, especially leaders. Obey was known as an old-bull liberal and behind-the-scenes dealer, with a combustible temper and a taste for blunt candor.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR news, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

NPR's Andrea Seabrook has the story.

ANDREA SEABROOK: For example, when a journalist asked him today whether he's retiring because of the Republican challenger in his district, he said...

DAVID OBEY: Let me put it this way: I've won 25 elections. Does anybody really think I don't know how to win another one?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OBEY: Or for that matter, has anybody ever seen me walk away from a fight in my life?

SEABROOK: Still, Republicans do claim some credit for Obey's retirement, trumpeting in press releases and emails: The architect of the stimulus is retiring. The Republican who hopes to take his seat is local district attorney and former reality show contestant Sean Duffy. Of this, Obey said...

OBEY: The fact is there isn't a 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.

SEABROOK: And as for possible successors, Obey said there are six Democrats waiting in the wings, all of whom he spoke with this morning and any of whom, he said, would make a good lawmaker.

SEABROOK: his resistance to what he called American colonialism in Central America; the fight against President Reagan's deficits; and more recently, his leading role in designing and securing passage of the Economic Recovery Act of 2009, the stimulus, passed while the economy was in a tailspin.

OBEY: The American economy was losing 700,000 jobs per month. Last month, by contrast, the economy added 162,000 jobs, the largest increase in three years. That corner could not have been turned without the Recovery Act. My only apology is that it should have been larger, but it was the most that the system would bear at the time.

SEABROOK: Obey said he has great disappointments, too, from his more than 40 years in Congress: The flood of private money in public elections and the worsening income gap between the rich and what he called the regular people of the country. But he did achieve one of his greatest goals in politics, he said.

OBEY: To help move the country into the ranks of civilized nations by making it possible for almost every American to receive quality health care without begging.

SEABROOK: In fact, Obey presided over much of the health care debate in the House, wielding the gavel that passed Medicare into law. Finally, Obey said he loves this place and he quipped: most of its colleagues.

OBEY: But there's a time to stay and a time to go, and this is my time to go. Frankly, I hate to do it. There is so much that needs to be done. But even more frankly, I am bone-tired.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEABROOK: His first priority in retirement, he said today waving his harmonica, is playing a lot more music with his family.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEABROOK: Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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