Rep. Bill Young of Florida, a former House Appropriations Committee chairman whose 42 years in Congress make him the House's current longest-serving Republican member, is reported by his family to be "gravely ill."
Young's office announced just last week that he would be retiring at the end of this term.
His longtime chief of staff, Harry Glenn, said then that the 82-year-old lawmaker had been battling ailments for a couple of years, including back problems, and that he had reinjured his back. Glenn said the congressman "needs [physical therapy], so he will miss a few weeks" of votes and other congressional activity. He was not present Wednesday night for the vote on the debt-ceiling and government-funding package.
On Thursday, an announcement from his office attributed to "the Young family" said his "condition turned for the worse overnight, and he is gravely ill."
"His doctors say his prognosis is guarded," the announcement said.
No further details were provided, including the location of where the congressman is being treated. Young represents Florida's 13th Congressional District, a Pinellas County-based seat in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, but he also spends time in a residence near the nation's capital.
Young was diagnosed more than 13 years ago as having diabetes, and he had open-heart surgery in 1996.
Though no longer one of the most powerful men in Washington, Young has remained influential as the top Republican on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
Young was first elected in 1970, and his career has included chairing the House Appropriations Committee from 1999 to 2005. He has been chairman of the Defense Appropriations subpanel since 2011, with several previous stints in the same job.
As recently as June, Young was still gearing up for another term, despite growing frustrations tied to defense sequester cuts and his disappointment with the general tone of congressional politics.
His announced departure from Congress was already setting up a scramble by the GOP to hold on to what has been considered a relatively safe Republican seat as long as he was in it. The seat could now become highly competitive.
President Obama in 2012 won that district 50 percent to 49.1 percent over his GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
Aware that speculation has been simmering for some time that his advanced age and health concerns could lead him to retire, Young has acknowledged in past interviews that he knows there has been talk that his wife, Beverly, or one of his sons, Billy, may run for the seat.
Young in the past has said he doesn't think Beverly would run. However, he at times indicated his son is interested. But Young has denied having made any promises to hold on to his congressional seat to help improve the chances of succession.
His decision to retire last week was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times. He told the newspaper there are several factors in why he won't run for reelection, including his health and his desire to spend more time with his family.
"I don't know that I would pick out one thing. It's a lot of things. My family, my job, my rehabilitation from my back," he told the newspaper.
Young's departure from Congress will strip the Tampa Bay area of years of political experience and clout in Congress. From Young's senior positions on House Appropriations, he has been able to steer hundreds of millions of dollars to his district, the region, and the state.
This article appears in the October 18, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.