Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and huge advocate for shipbuilding, will retire April 1 due to ailing health, the 81 year-old lawmaker said Monday.

“I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge,” Cochran wrote in a press release that hit the wires late Monday. “I intend to fulfill my responsibilities and commitments to the people of Mississippi and the Senate through the completion of the 2018 appropriations cycle, after which I will formally retire from the U.S. Senate.”

The press release did not elaborate about Cochran’s health challenges. Last year, he took some sick leave. Cochran is his state’s senior Senator and has served in the body nearly half his life. He was elected to the Senate in 1978 after a stint in the House and will retire halfway through his seventh Senate term.

Over the years, Cochran has been a reliable advocate for boosting the shipbuilding budget for the Navy and Coast Guard. Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] is the largest private employer in the state. 

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s GOP wing is flush with members with significant defense constituencies who could take the gavel in Cochran’s stead, should his health decline more rapidly than he anticipates.

The Senate had not scheduled any budget hearings about the Defense Department’s fiscal-year 2019 budget request at deadline Monday.

The House Appropriations Committee, which by constitutional mandate gets first crack at budgets every year, is set to consider the 2019 budget requests for the Navy and Marine Corps in a Wednesday hearing: the first Pentagon budget hearing of the appropriations cycle that kicked off last month, when President Donald Trump sent his latest federal funding proposal to the Hill.