(CNN) -- Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a longtime fixture on the House subcommittee that oversees Pentagon spending, has died following complications from gallbladder surgery, according to his office. He was 77.
The veteran Democratic congressman recently underwent scheduled laparoscopic surgery to remove his gallbladder.
Murtha was hospitalized in December and had to postpone a hearing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the administration's strategy in Afghanistan. The congressman returned to work after a few days in the hospital and helped oversee final passage of the 2010 defense appropriations bill.
Murtha represented Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district in the House since 1974, making him the chamber's eighth most senior member. According to his biography on the House Web site, Murtha was the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress.
He was considered one of "the kings of pork" on Capitol Hill by taxpayer watchdog groups for requesting tens of millions of dollars in earmarks.
On his House Web site, Murtha strongly defended earmarks, saying, "I believe that elected representatives of the people understand their constituents and districts best." Supporters said his efforts have helped bring thousands of jobs to western Pennsylvania.
Other controversies dogged Murtha's career. Critics alleged he steered Pentagon contracts to businesses that hired his brother as a lobbyist, but Murtha insisted his brother was treated like everyone else.
The Fox anchors were restrained this morning in announcing the news. The right wingers have had Murtha in their sights for a long time. So you can count on the "opinion" crew to be licking its chops over the prospects of a Republican taking Murtha's seat this fall. Start your stopwatches.
(UPDATE: John Amato will be appearing on the Randi Rhodes Show at 1:35 pm PST to talk about this and other topics)