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Dave Obey

Dave Obey
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 7th district
In office
April 1, 1969 – January 3, 2011
Preceded by Melvin Laird
Succeeded by Sean Duffy
Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee
In office
January 3, 2007 – January 3, 2011
Preceded by Jerry Lewis
Succeeded by Hal Rogers
In office
March 29, 1994 – January 3, 1995
Preceded by William Natcher
Succeeded by Bob Livingston
Personal details
Born David Ross Obey
(1938-10-03) October 3, 1938
Okmulgee, Oklahoma, U.S.
Political party Republican (Before 1957)
Democratic (1957–present)
Spouse(s) Joan Obey
Alma mater University of Wisconsin, Madison
Religion Roman Catholicism
David Obey Center for Health Sciences at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau

David Ross "Dave" Obey ( ; born October 3, 1938)[1] was the United States Representative for Wisconsin's 7th congressional district from 1969 to 2011. The district includes much of the northwestern portion of the state, including Wausau and Superior. He is a member of the Democratic Party, and served as Chairman of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations from 1994 to 1995 and again from 2007 to 2011.

On May 5, 2010, Obey announced that he would not seek reelection to Congress in November 2010. He left Congress in January 2011, and was succeeded by Republican Sean Duffy. He began working for Gephardt Government Affairs, a lobbying firm founded by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, in June 2011.[2]


  • Early life, education and career 1
  • Early political career 2
  • U.S. House of Representatives 3
    • Tenure 3.1
    • Education 3.2
    • Healthcare 3.3
  • Political campaigns 4
    • 2008 4.1
    • 2010 4.2
  • Controversy 5
  • Books 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life, education and career

Obey was born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, the son of Mary Jane (née Chellis) and Orville John Obey.[3] Soon after his birth, his family moved back to his parents' native Wisconsin, and Obey was raised in Wausau, Wisconsin, where he has lived since.[3] He graduated from Wausau East High School and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from and did his graduate work in Soviet politics[4] at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Before serving in Congress, Obey worked as a real estate broker.

Early political career

Obey grew up as a Republican. However, he was so angered after seeing his teachers falsely branded as Communists by backers of Joseph McCarthy that he became a Democrat in the mid-1950s, sometime between the ages of 16 and 18.[5]

He was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1963 and served there until 1969.

U.S. House of Representatives


Obey was the longest-serving member of either house of Congress in Wisconsin's history. He was also the third longest-serving member of the House, after fellow Democrats John Dingell and John Conyers, both of Michigan.

In Congress, Obey chaired the commission to write the House's Code of Ethics. Among the reforms he instituted was one requiring members of the House to disclose their personal financial dealings so the public would be made aware of any potential conflicts of interest. Obey served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee from 2007 to 2011; he briefly chaired this committee from 1994 to 1995 and served as its ranking Democrat from 1995 to 2007. He also chaired its Subcommittee on Labor.

Obey was one of the most liberal members of the House; he considers himself a progressive in the tradition of Robert La Follette.[6] Obey had risen to the position of fifth ranking House Democrat since his party retook control of Congress.

Obey also is remembered for being the congressman who intervened when fellow Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. approached Republican Jean Schmidt on the House floor in 2005. Ford was upset because Schmidt had called Congressman John Murtha a coward for advocating a redeployment of American forces in Iraq.

Obey holds a critical view of the mainstream American news media, as evidenced by his words on June 13, 2008, upon the sudden death of NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert. Obey said of Russert: "Tim Russert's death is not just a body blow for NBC News; it is a body blow for the nation and for anyone who cherishes newsmen and women who have remained devoted to reporting hard news in an era increasingly consumed by trivia."[7] Dave Obey announced an end to his congressional career on May 5, 2010, with press releases being released on May 6. ."[8]


On June 30, 2010, Obey proposed an amendment to a supplemental war spending bill that would allocate $10 billion to prevent expected teacher layoffs from school districts nationwide. The amendment, which passed the House on July 1, 2010, proposed siphoning off $500 million from the Race to the Top fund as well as $300 million designated for charter schools and teacher incentive pay.[9] In response, the White House released a statement threatening a veto if the bill is passed by the Senate.[10]


On March 21, 2010, Obey swung the same gavel used to pass Medicare in 1965, but this time to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.[11][12]

Political campaigns

Obey was elected to the House to replace eight-term incumbent Republican Melvin R. Laird, who was appointed Secretary of Defense under President Richard Nixon. Obey, only 30 when he was elected, became the youngest member of Congress upon taking his seat, as well as the first Democrat ever to represent the district. He was elected to a full term in 1970 and has been reelected 18 times. He has only faced serious opposition twice. In 1972, during his bid for a second full term, his district was merged with the neighboring 10th District of Republican Alvin O'Konski, a 15-term incumbent. However, Obey retained 60 percent of his former territory, and was handily reelected in subsequent contests.

In 1994, Obey only won reelection by seven points as the Democrats lost control of the House during the Republican Revolution.



Obey was expected to run in 2010, having raised a warchest of $1.4 million. However, Obey was facing tough poll numbers in his district, plus his age and the death of close colleague John Murtha and his frustration with the White House convinced him to bow out of the race.[13][14]

Upon his retirement, the seat was won by Republican Sean Duffy who defeated Democrat State Senator Julie Lassa.


On June 25, 2009, Obey got into a squabble on the House floor with fellow Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. After the House floor had largely cleared following a series of votes, Obey and Waters split apart from a heated conversation about an earmark requested by Waters for a public school employment training center in Los Angeles that was named after herself. Obey rejected the earmark as violating policies against so-called "monuments to me." Waters revised her request to go to the school district's whole adult employment training program, so the district could decide whether the money would go to the school named after herself. Nonetheless, Obey let it be known that the earmark would be denied. She approached him and complained, shouting, "You’re out of line!" while walking down toward the well in the House chambers. Obey shouted back, "You’re out of line!" before turning and walking away, but stopped, turned back toward Waters, and shouted, "I'm not going to approve that earmark!" He again turned away while Waters huddled with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and was overheard saying, "He touched me first." before being escorted into the cloakroom. Obey went to talk with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer when Waters briefly returned again, telling her colleagues, "He touched me." before returning to the cloakroom. An aide to Waters said that Obey had pushed her while Obey's spokesperson, Ellis Brachman, placed the blame on Waters for escalating the situation.[15]



  1. ^ "Obey, David R. 1938". 1938-10-03. Retrieved 2010-08-29. 
  2. ^ Politico (2011). David Obey heading to K Street. Retrieved June 3, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Obey, David R. (2007). Raising hell for justice: the Washington battles of a heartland progressive. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 9–11.  
  4. ^ "Biography of David R. Obey". The Online Office of Congressman David R. Obey. Retrieved 2010-04-15. 
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ "Biography of David R. Obey". The Online Office of Congressman David R. Obey. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  7. ^ "Reactions To Tim Russert's Passing". CBS News. 2008-06-13. 
  8. ^ "Dave Obey's Retirement Statement". The Chippewa Herald. 2010-05-06. 
  9. ^ Anderson, Nick (2010-06-30). "Lawmaker wants to shift some 'Race to the Top' funds to prevent teacher layoffs". Washington Post. 
  10. ^ Anderson, Nick (2010-07-02). "Obama's education program faces $500M cut despite veto threat". Washington Post. 
  11. ^ "House Passes Health Reform". CBS News. 2010-03-21. 
  12. ^ Paul Begala (2010-03-21). "Hallelujah!". Huffington Post. 
  13. ^ [4]
  14. ^ Rutenberg, Jim; Zeleny, Jeff (November 3, 2010). "Republican Game Plan Led to Historic Victory". The New York Times. 
  15. ^ Allen, Jared; Mike Soraghan (June 25, 2009). "Obey, Waters in noisy floor fight".  

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Melvin Laird
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 7th congressional district

Succeeded by
Sean Duffy
Preceded by
William Natcher
Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee
Succeeded by
Bob Livingston
Preceded by
Jerry Lewis
Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee
Succeeded by
Hal Rogers
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