WASHINGTON — Rep. Melvin Price (D-Ill.), a 22-term congressman who was one of the longest-serving members of the House, died Friday of cancer.
Price, 83, who had been ill for some time with arthritis and diabetes, learned in the last month that he had pancreatic cancer, said Mike Mansfield, his administrative assistant.
Price went to the hospital Friday morning complaining of excessive pain, Mansfield said. He died at Malcolm Grove Hospital at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
Chaired Armed Services Panel
For 10 years, Price chaired the House Armed Services Committee until fellow Democrats, expressing doubts about his ability to lead the committee because of his age and health, ousted him from the post in January, 1985.
He had announced before his reelection in 1986 that he would not run again in 1988 but said he wanted the 22nd term to complete unfinished business in a congressional career he began more than four decades earlier.
Next week, when the House considers its version of a Pentagon budget bill, one of the amendments that will be pending would name a Trident missile-firing submarine for Price, who was a longtime supporter of the nuclear Navy.
"Mel Price has reached the point of being a political legend," Rep. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said of the state's senior congressman.
Price grew up along the banks of the Mississippi River in East St. Louis where he was born Jan. 1, 1905. He came to Capitol Hill as an aide at the start of the New Deal and was elected to the House while serving in the Army. He first took office in 1945.
In 1967, Price was elected by his colleagues as chairman of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, the first standing committee on ethics, and resigned when chosen to chair the Armed Services Committee.
During his tenure as head of the committee, Price presided over the drive to beef up the nation's arms stockpile with the MX missile, the B-1 bomber, a nuclear aircraft carrier and an array of other hardware.
He identified himself as a staunch supporter of Administration requests for military spending, regardless of which party was in power, acknowledging that the committee under his aegis was somewhat of a "rubber stamp" for the Pentagon.
"In many ways, it is," Price once said. "I'd rather be criticized for being for something than have to alibi when we need it and we don't have it."
Price is survived by his wife, Garaldine, and one son, Dr. William Price of Colorado Springs, Colo.