Rep. John Murtha Dies At 77

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), the longtime congressman from Western Pennsylvania, legendary earmarker, and leading Iraq war critic has died after suffering complications from gallbladder surgery.

One of Congress's undisputed kings of earmarks, Murtha steered millions upon millions in federal spending to his home district throughout his 35 years in Congress. He was also the House's chief broker of Defense appropriations spending, serving as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee.

Elected in 1974, Murtha was the first Vietnam War combat veteran to become a member of Congress. Though he was a defense hawk early in his career, that changed when he became one of Congress's most outspoken critics of the Iraq war: when congressional Democrats called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and confronted President George W. Bush over funding of the war in 2007, Murtha was among the Democrats who led the charge.

He was a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and, had things turned out differently, he could have ended up as House majority leader: when his party took control of Congress in 2006, Murtha ran for the position and was supported by Pelosi but lost to the more centrist Steny Hoyer (MD).

Most recently, Murtha had drawn fire from Republicans as a figure in the scandal over PMA Group, a top defense lobbying firm with ties to Murtha that was raided by the FBI in 2009. The Office of Congressional Ethics looked into whether Murtha and others had exchanged earmarks for campaign contributions; last month, it closed the investigation and recommended that the House ethics committee dismiss the allegations against Murtha and two other lawmakers.

Throughout his appropriating and deal-making, and the criticism it drew, Murtha was unapologetic. And his constituents supported what he did for their economy, sending him to Congress for 19 terms.

"If I'm corrupt, it's because I take care of my district," Murtha told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in March of 2009 for a story on how his earmarks supported the Johnstown, Pennsylvania economy. "My job as a member of Congress is to make sure that we take care of what we see is necessary."