No Republican currently in the U.S. House has been on Capitol Hill longer than Rep. C.W. Bill Young — about 42 years.
On Wednesday, the 82-year-old lawmaker and former House Appropriations chairman let it be known he is retiring at the end of the term.
Young has been battling ailments for a couple of years, including back problems, and he reinjured his back on Friday, according to Harry Glenn, Young’s long-time chief of staff. “Needs (physical therapy), so he will miss a few weeks” of votes and other congressional activity, said Glenn.
Though once one of the most powerful men in Washington, Young remains influential as the top Republican on the defense appropriations subcommittee. His decision to retire 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.
Asked if the congressional gridlock was a factor, Young responded, “I’m a little disappointed. It seems there’s too much politics. It’s a different Congress.”
As recently as in 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.
As the longest-serving Republican member of the House — he was first elected in 1970—his is a career that’s included being chairman of the House Appropriations Committee from 1999 to 2005.
He has been chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee since 2011, with several previous stints in the same job.
Young’s departure may now set up a scramble by the GOP to keep what has been considered a relatively safe Republican seat as long as he was in it — Florida’s 13th — but could now become highly competitive.
President Obama in 2012 won that district 50 percent to 49.1 percent over his GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
His departure also will strip the Tampa Bay area of years of political experience and clout in Congress. From Young’s senior positions on the House Appropriations Committee he has been able to steer hundreds of millions of dollars to his district, the region, and the state.
Aware that speculation has been simmering for some time that his advanced age and health 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 Pinellas County-based congressional seat.
But 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.
In an interview five years ago, Young was already introspective — if not evasive — about his future and when he would retire.
“I think you know when it’s time. How do you know? I don’t know how you know it,” he said. “But so many people have told me, ‘You will know when it’s time.’ “
Young said he’d already thought he had accomplished a lot in Congress, including — he pointed out — establishing a federal bone-marrow registry that has saved many lives.
But he added, “There are still some things I want to do.”
Young also speaks of being diagnosed more than 13 years ago as having diabetes, and of his having had open-heart surgery in 1996.
In 2005, term limits forced Young out of his chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee — a coveted and powerful assignment because it controls the federal government’s purse strings. Back then it also gave him tight reins over a committee because of his control of earmarks — a tool current chairmen no longer have.
Then, Young lost the chairmanship of the defense appropriations subcommittee in 2007 when Democrats took over the House.
But he regained it in 2011. He would have required another waiver from House Republican conference chairman term-limit rules to maintain the subcommittee chairmanship next year.
In 2011, Young contacted U.S. Capitol Police to tell them he was very much still alive despite an incident in which police in his Tampa-St. Petersburg-area district received an anonymous report that he had died.
“Still alive and kicking,” the lawmaker had to eventually insist from Washington by telephone, to personally squelch the rumor for a reporter at The Tampa Tribune. The newspaper had been tipped off by police to pursue the potential bad news.
On Wednesday, colleagues applauded his long career.
“For the past 50 years, Bill Young has been a terrific and tireless public servant for the people of Florida. Whether as a Florida State Senator or Member of Congress,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden, in a statement. “As Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Bill has been committed to improving the lives of servicemen and women across our country, and we are forever grateful for his commitment.”
And colleagues from across the aisle, including those within the Florida delegation, also praised Young.
Fellow Tampa area Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., praised Young and his wife, Beverly, for “a tremendous legacy” in not only advocating for the region’s MacDill Air Force Base, but “especially his passion for our military members, veterans and their families.”
“It has been a privilege to serve alongside Congressman Young, who is one of the most honorable members of Congress ever to serve in the body,” said Castor.