Undaunted by defeat, Yoho vows to keep up fight
Published: Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 6:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 6:17 p.m.
The damage to the Republican Party brought on by the government shutdown was supposed to teach its “hard-line” tea party members like Rep. Ted Yoho a hard lesson about politics.
If you go:
U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho will host a town hall meeting on Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Chiefland Middle High School cafeteria.
Instead, the balky rollout of the health care law, the rising federal deficit and cheering constituents back home are encouraging them.
Take Yoho, for example.
By the accounts of Democrats and some Republicans, he and his tea party ilk should have learned that governing requires compromise. There are just has a few problems with that.
For one, Yoho said he doesn’t feel defeated. Republicans had compromised enough. If anything, he was disappointed that the showdown over President Barack Obama’s health care law did not force lawmakers to cut federal spending.
“Until we address that problem, we are going to continue having this kind of stuff in Congress,” he said in a brief interview in the Capitol’s Speaker’s Lobby after the House finished voting last week. “And the American people are tired of it.”
It is the kind of populist rhetoric that got him elected in his conservative district in North Central Florida, where he was headed after the House adjourned for a two-week break. Yoho’s schedule includes a town hall in Chiefland on Tuesday as well as meetings with businesses and constituents before the House reconvenes on Nov. 12.
The tea party strategy, to use essential bills to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling as leverage to dismantle Obama’s health care law, was widely expected to fail from the start. In the end it did, and Republicans shouldered most of the blame for the crisis it created.
But the polarized responses from the public illustrate the challenge facing House Republicans. As lawmakers dive into budget negotiations aimed at preventing another showdown in January, and with polls showing the public blaming Republicans for the shutdown more than Democrats, House Republican leaders must decide how to handle members like Yoho without alienating the tea party in election-year budget and debt battles with Democrats.
And so Yoho, a 58-year-old veterinarian who stunned 24-year veteran Cliff Stearns last year to take his place in Congress, finds himself a key player in the budget and debt debacle.
Yoho shows no signs of yielding. He would like to see the health law “buried in a big, deep hole and never seen again” or otherwise “fixed.” In his district the health law would pit hospital emergency rooms that would benefit from more patients having insurance against medical device manufacturers that face a tax to help pay for the law.
And he remains convinced that breaching the debt limit would not automatically trigger a default, so long as the Treasury pays the interest on the nation’s debt. This, despite near-unanimous warnings from the Treasury and governments, economists and credit ratings agencies the world over that seriously threatening to default on the nation’s obligations would have broad, deep and irreversible impacts on the global economy.
He said that Republicans, in gradually backing down from demanding a full repeal of the health care law to requesting a one-year delay of the individual mandate requiring everyone to have health insurance, had ceded enough ground to Democrats.
To him, recent problems like low enrollment on a dysfunctional website and insurers forcing individuals into plans with higher premiums to be compliant with the law, proved that the law was oversold and its implementation was not ready for primetime.
“We’re going to have to deal with it somehow,” he said. “But there’s going to be a lot of pain and suffering with this law.”
A conference panel is expected to produce a budget framework by Dec. 13, in time for Congress to act before the current funding bill expires in January and the debt ceiling will need to be raised in February. Their efforts may be tested by tea party Republicans like Yoho, who see their role as diverting the country from its path toward financial ruin.
Yoho’s “outside-the-Beltway” image helped him defeat Stearns in the Republican primary before winning his election with 65 percent of the vote. If he holds firm, Yoho risks further jeopardizing his party’s control of the House and its hopes to retake the Senate. In the less likely scenario where he cedes ground to Democrats, he might face a primary challenger from the right next year.
Beyond the budget battle, it is hard to see how Yoho could lose his next election barring a personal scandal, said Nathan L. Stuart, the deputy editor of the Cook Political Report, which rates Yoho’s district as “safe Republican.”
Outside of liberal Gainesville and parts of Alachua County, the district is rural and conservative, effectively forming an echo chamber for his views. Yoho estimated that “70 percent” of the feedback he has received from constituents since the shutdown was positive and encouraged him to “stay in the fight.” The rest told him to “negotiate” and “embrace this” health care law.
“He is the type of Republican that leadership just has to deal with,” Stuart said. “He feels like he came with a mandate of ‘change.’ ”
Yoho has little reason to fear reprisals for his defiance. He has twice rebuffed party leaders — first on military intervention in Syria and second on the budget and debt bills — without consequence.
Party leaders have been known to punish rebellious members by stripping them of plum committee assignments. But there has been no indication from Speaker John Boehner that Yoho would lose his prized posts on the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees.
Yoho does not think his defections have damaged his relationship with House Republican leaders.
“It may be a little bit of a thorn, but yet they know where I stand and they respect that, too,” he said. “So we get along great.”
But his relationships with the rank-and-file caucus are clearly troubled. Veteran Republican lawmakers like Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Peter King of New York have joined Democrats in publicly criticizing the tea party lawmakers, who they blamed for dealing Republicans a losing hand in the budget and debt battle.
“They’ve got to remember that we control one-half of one-third of the government,” Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California said. “If we have to make a few sacrifices to get some Democrats to agree with us, then you take those losses.”
When asked about his motivation, Yoho said it was “love of country.”
“This is not for a job,” he said. “I had a great job and a career. This is for a cause. There is a way of life disappearing in this country and that leads to the American dream.”