Joel T. Broyhill, 86; Vigorous 11-Term N.Va. Congressman

By Bart Barnes
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Joel T. Broyhill, 86, an 11-term Republican congressman from Arlington County who became an institution on the political landscape of metropolitan Washington during 22 years of service on Capitol Hill, died of congestive heart failure and pneumonia Sept. 24 at his home in Arlington.

Mr. Broyhill won his seat in Congress on the coattails of Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential landslide in 1952, and he lost it in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate crisis and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. He played a key role in vital decisions affecting the nation's capital and the Washington area as an influential member of the House District Committee and a master craftsman of legislative tactics and strategy.

As a lawmaker, Mr. Broyhill was best known for local matters. He sponsored legislation that led to the construction of the Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson bridges across the Potomac River and the second span of the 14th Street Bridge. He also sponsored a measure that led to the widening of Shirley Highway. He fought for better pay and working conditions for federal employees, federal aid to local school systems and financial support for Metro.

He was an unrelenting and outspoken opponent of home rule for the District, arguing that the U.S. Constitution placed ultimate responsibility for the nation's capital with Congress, and he battled for years against measures to increase the authority of city residents to manage D.C. affairs.

For these efforts he was bitterly criticized by D.C. leaders, who ascribed racial motives to his opposition to self-government for the majority-black city. But he won widespread support in Northern Virginia, where his stand was interpreted as a first line of defense against any attempt by the city to levy taxes on suburban commuters.

He supported the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution, which allowed D.C. residents to vote for president and vice president, and the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. He also backed aid to grandparents who cared for their grandchildren.

On the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which handles all tax, tariff and Social Security legislation, Mr. Broyhill became one of the ranking Republicans, and for most of his time in Congress he also served on the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee. In 2000, Congress named the postal building at 8409 Lee Hwy. in Merrifield after him.

On national issues, he supported the Republican legislative programs of Eisenhower and Nixon. In the Democratic administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, he opposed programs of the New Frontier and the Great Society.

Mr. Fix-It

To his constituents in Arlington, Falls Church and sections of Fairfax County and Alexandria, Mr. Broyhill was the quintessential Mr. Fix-It. A word from his office could expedite delivery of a benefits check from a recalcitrant Social Security Administration or speed a mortgage loan approval from a sluggish Veterans Administration. An office staffer used to keep a stack of blank Western Union telegrams on his desk, just for constituent complaints against federal agencies. A messenger stopped by regularly to collect the wires for immediate delivery.

For unemployed Northern Virginians, a recommendation from Mr. Broyhill was an invaluable asset in landing a job within the federal bureaucracy. For collectors of souvenirs, he produced flags that had been flown over the Capitol. He could be counted on to find rare federal agency reports or yearbooks. In a pinch, he could locate scarce tickets for an Army-Navy football game. Over the years, he sent out thousands of Christmas cards, and each June he could count on receiving 50 or 60 wedding invitations.

When he took his seat in the House of Representatives in 1953, Mr. Broyhill was the first congressman from Virginia's new 10th Congressional District, which had been carved out of the old 8th District, then represented by Howard W. "Judge" Smith, a legendary and powerful Democrat who controlled legislation through his chairmanship of the House Rules Committee.

Although of different political parties, Mr. Broyhill and Smith shared a conservative political ideology, and the veteran Rules Committee chairman took an avuncular interest in the new congressman, teaching him many tricks of the legislative trade.

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