Florida's Bill Young, Longest-Serving House Republican, Dies

October 21, 2013

Florida Rep. Bill Young, the House’s longest-serving Republican and a powerful defense appropriator, died Friday at the age of 82, a spokesman said.

Young, who was first elected to the House in 1970, has been hospitalized for the past two weeks as he recovered from a back injury. His death came a little more than a week after he announced he would not seek reelection in 2014.

During his more than four decades on Capitol Hill, Young, who chaired the Appropriations Committee for close to six years and later its defense sub panel, exercised broad sway over military spending. He developed a reputation as an old-school ear-marker, securing many pet projects for his St. Petersburg-area district.

In recent years, Young turned frail. He was mostly confined to a wheelchair, but at times used a walker, aided by a phalanx of staff members. He moved slowly, but attended most House Republican Conference meetings and made it to the Capitol for votes. But Young remained mentally sharp, frequently joking with House staffers and talking to reporters.

Speaker John Boehner said in a statement: “It’s only been a week since we began trying to imagine the House without Bill Young – an impossible task in its own right – and now he is gone. In our sorrow, we recall how not a day went by without a colleague seeking Bill’s counsel as he sat on his perch in the corner of the House floor. There was a good reason for this. 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.”

President Barack Obama said in a statement: “[Young] will be remembered for his advocacy and support for the armed forces, service members, and their families as well as his statesmanship and long history of working across the aisle to keep our country moving forward.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that Young “will be remembered as a passionate advocate for the welfare of America’s service members and military veterans. Though his loss will be felt by many, his legacy and commitment to a strong national defense will always inspire us.”

Democrats have long been eyeing Young’s 13th Congressional District seat, which broke for President Barack Obama in 2012. His death means there will likely be a highly competitive special election to fill the seat.

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