Murtha: A Congressional Dinosaur Close to Extinction?

Sixty-five million years ago, dinosaurs ruled the earth — with the same unthinking ruthlessness which Rep John Murtha (D, PA-12) rules the House Defense Subcommittee. His own website brags that “[o]f the nearly 10,000 men and women who have served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1789, only 90 have served longer than he has.” But maybe, just maybe, like the dinosaurs, Murtha’s time is up.


There’s much to admire in Murtha’s service, especially his 37 years as an officer in the Marines and the Marine Reserves. He retired a colonel in 1990. And since then… well, maybe not so much.

As a politician, he first came to national attention during the 1980 “ABSCAM” sting, in which one senator and five members of Congress were convicted on bribery charges. While never indicted himself, videotapes released two years ago show that Murtha’s involvement was deep. From those tapes:

Now, as I told Howard, I want to deal with you guys a while before I made any transactions at all, period. In other words, I want to say, “Look put some money in these guys.” And I, just let me know, so I can say, you know, these guys are going to — they want to do business in our district. Then there’s a couple businesses that I’m not personally involved in but would be very helpful for the district, that I could make a big play of, be very helpful to me.

After we’ve done some business, then I might change my mind. But right now, that’s all I’m interested in. Period. And I’m going to tell you this. If anybody can do it, and I’m not bull (expletive deleted) you fellows, I can get it done my way.

Later, Murtha tells the undercover FBI agent, “I’m not interested. At this point.” From the sound of it, had the investigation gone on much longer, Murtha probably would have been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.


As a congressman, Murtha has specialized in bringing the defense-spending bacon home to his constituents in southwestern Pennsylvania. In a 2005 report, compiled a detailed report on Murtha’s pork barrel ways. I tried to total up all the millions, but my calculator ran out of digits. Even the Washington Post was forced to conclude that

Like some of his colleagues, Murtha demonstrates his effectiveness in press releases touting new money for local enterprises. And the publicity helps come election time. A power in military spending, Murtha garners his largest chunk of campaign donations from the defense industry, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. recently reported that in 2008 defense spending, Murtha “has secured the most earmarked dollars in the 2008 military spending bill,” worth over 150 million dollars.

And in a story filed last week, the Seattle Times notes that the new House ethics rules on pork barrel spending are, in the words of Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), “a sham.” Although required by their own rules to reveal all earmarks, Murtha and his Democratic buddies in Congress still manage to hide 155 earmarks worth $3.5 billion in this year’s Defense spending.

More recently — and perhaps most famously — Murtha also devoted some pretty serious time to insulting his constituents, and even his fellow Marines serving on the front lines. While trying to defend Barack Obama’s famous assertion that certain Pennsylvanians get bitter and cling to their guns and religion, Murtha had this to say: “What I mean is there’s still folks that have a problem voting for someone because they are black.” He added: “This whole area, years ago, was really redneck.” Oh, that’s all right then — at least the rednecks can’t complain about any potholes while Murtha keeps getting himself reelected.


And his fellow Marines? When Time magazine claimed that Marines had killed innocent civilians in Haditha, Iraq, Murtha leapt to their defense at a press conference:

It’s much worse than reported in Time magazine. There was no fire fight. There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. And that’s what the report is going to tell…

Semper Fidelis, my ass.

The Marines were cleared of all charges. Marine SSG Frank D. Wuterich has filed suit against Murtha for defamation.

And then there are Murtha’s just-plain-nutty moments, such as when he suggested “redeploying” our troops in Iraq back to… Okinawa. For, uh, rapid response against yellowfin tuna or something, I guess.

But there is some good news to be found in all this. Murtha’s comments have so flustered Pennsylvanians, that the state — once a lock for Obama — might, might just be back in play again. And in even better news, Murtha’s challenger is within the margin of error, according to the most recent poll conducted in his district. The best news? Murtha’s challenger is himself a retired officer, Army LTC William Russell, a veteran of the Iraq War.

Sixty-five million years ago, Murtha was first elected to Congress. Er, excuse me, that was when the dinosaurs went extinct, probably after a meteor strike. If Murtha goes out into the dark on election day, it won’t be by accident. It will be because he’s spent his entire career tempting fate, throwing rocks into the air — and having them barely miss.


Maybe this time, he’s thrown one stone too many.


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