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Veteran Democratic lawmaker Jack Murtha dies at 77

By John Byrne
Monday, February 8, 2010 14:48 EDT
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Democratic heavyweight Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) — who went by Jack — has died after complications following gallbladder surgery.

A local news station said the congressman had died in the hospital with his family by his side at 1:18 PM ET Monday.

Murtha was the chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, where he oversaw Pentagon spending. He was the longest-serving Pennsylvania lawmaker, and was first elected in 1974.

Murtha has been an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama’s Afghan war policy. The chairman of the House subcommittee in charge of allocating war funding told a magazine in September he opposed any further troop increases for Afghanistan.

“In Vietnam it took 500,000 troops and that didn’t solve the problem,” Murtha told Foreign Policy. “So we have to take a different approach.”

“Murtha’s dissent comes at a critical juncture, with the Washington debate heating up and public support for the war effort dropping,” the magazine wrote. “The Pennsylvania congressman is only the latest senior Democratic lawmaker to come out against a troop increase, following similar statements last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin.

“But opposition from Murtha, who has deep contacts among the military brass, could ultimately prove more problematic for an Obama administration that has yet to launch a full-throated to defense of the war.”

Last year, President Obama announced a troop “surge” for Afghanistan that, when completed, will increase US troop strength in Afghanistan to 68,000.

The 19-term Democrat was the first Vietnam War veteran to be elected to Congress.

Murtha routinely faced criticism from government watchdog groups, which accused him of being the “king of pork.”

He made the list of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s most corrupt legislators list in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Murtha’s alleged corruption issues are manifold, CREW said in 2009: “his ties to the PMA Group, a now defunct lobbying firm under federal investigation; his ties to Kuchera Industries, a defense contractor under federal investigation; his ties to defense executives and former military personnel convicted of skimming money from government contracts; actions he may have taken to benefit his brother’s lobbying clients; and his chief of staff’s threats to a political opponent.”

UPDATE: The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has released a statement calling Murtha a “tireless advocate” and “patriotic veteran.”

“With the passing of Congressman Jack Murtha, America has lost a patriotic veteran, Pennsylvanians have lost a tireless advocate, and we have lost a friend,” Chris Van Hollen wrote Monday afternoon.

Congressman Murtha dedicated his life to serving the nation he loved. As a Marine who wore the uniform for 37 years, Congressman Murtha courageously fought in Vietnam. As Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Congressman Murtha worked to ensure that our men and women in uniform and their families had the support and resources they deserve.

In 2005, Congressman Murtha inspired a new generation by taking up the fight to end the Iraq War. His leadership will be missed, but his place in history is secured as the first combat veteran of the Vietnam War elected to Congress. Three days ago on February 5th, 2010, he became the longest serving Member of Congress in the history of Pennsylvania.

On behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, I extend my deepest condolences to Congressman Murtha’s wife Joyce, their children, their grandchildren, and his constituents in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District. I hope it is of some comfort that the thoughts and prayers of so many are with them at this difficult time.

 
 
 
 
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