June 2010

Obey Retirement Shakes up Appropriations Committee, House

Dave Obey
U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis.


“I’m bone tired,” said U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., in early May when he announced his retirement from the U.S. House of Representatives after serving since 1969. The Wisconsin democrat has been chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee since the Democrats took control of the House in 2006 and also has served since then as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, which oversees the National Institutes of Health.

Obey has been viewed widely as a friend of the NIH, but the agency is not his only passion— for example, he also is very devoted to education issues. He once excoriated Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology staff for too single-mindedly advocating for NIH funding over other social programs he considered equally important.

Obey received Research!America’s public service award this past April. The award ceremony was most memorable for the musical duet he performed with NIH Director Francis Collins. Obey is an excellent harmonica player, and his performance with Collins (guitar, vocals) on a parody of “Summertime,” made the evening particularly noteworthy, although a recording contract is not likely to be forthcoming.

Obey typically has won re-election by 60 percent or more during his 40 years of service. This year, he was facing Ashland County District Attorney Sean P. Duffy, who, according to Politico.com, was running “an uphill campaign” against Obey. However, other observers were not so sanguine; the New York Times characterized the race as likely the most competitive Obey had faced in years. (He and other senior democrats have been targeted by the GOP, and Duffy has been endorsed by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.) But, Obey strongly denied he was leaving because of his opponent, saying he had never walked away from a fight in his life.

Obey’s departure, however, is a blow to House Democrats as they face political headwinds in a tough political year.

Obey’s likely successor as Appropriations Committee chair is U.S. Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash. Dicks supposedly has made his wishes known to the Democratic leadership that he wants the job, and, barring something currently unknown, the job likely will be his next January, assuming the Democrats keep control of the House following the November elections. Dicks is from the 6th Congressional District of Washington, the northwest corner of the state. He is currently chairman of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies and also sits on the Subcommittee on Defense as well as the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.


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