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Incoming GOP Rep. Yoho Rejects Norquist Pledge


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene. Congress is negotiating with President Obama over ways to avoid higher taxes and spending cuts at the end of this year, while still reducing the federal deficit.

MONTAGNE: Democrats face pressure to reshape entitlement programs.

GREENE: And Republicans face the pressure we'll discuss this morning: pressure to accept higher taxes.

MONTAGNE: Elsewhere in today's program, we'll be hearing a senator willing to discard a famous no-tax pledge. In a moment, we'll hear the author of that pledge, Grover Norquist.

But we begin with the perspective of a congressman-elect from Florida who met with Steve Inskeep.


His name is Ted Yoho. He's a veterinarian in horse country, a businessman, a Republican and no fan of high taxes. But he declined to sign the no-tax pledge.

Why didn't you sign that pledge?

REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT TED YOHO: I didn't sign that because, just, my philosophy is I gave a pledge to the people in my district. You know, signing a pledge is not going to fix our debt problems, our financial woes in this country.

INSKEEP: One specific question that's on the table is whether the wealthy should be asked to pay more.

YOHO: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: If your speaker, John Boehner...

YOHO: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: ...comes to you and says, well, I've worked out this deal with the White House. I don't like this part of it, but higher taxes on the wealthy, one way or another. Can you vote for that?

YOHO: To me, I don't think we have a tax revenue problem in this country. I think we have plenty of money for the government to run. So to answer your question, I would not vote for that unless I saw the whole package and said: What else is on the table?

Anybody I've talked to - the businesspeople over the course of the last two and a half to three years - if it came down to where we got spending cuts under control and we got rid of the fraud, waste and abuse, if we did a good job and we felt like we're in the right direction and getting control of them, becoming more efficient as a government, and you looked at the situation and we're still revenue short, then I think anybody in their right mind would say, yeah, I'm willing to give a little bit, provided the government spends it the way that it should be to pay off our debt - not to increase more programs, not to spend it and put us in more of the debt situation or more peril.

INSKEEP: Did you make any promise when you were running that you would have to break in order to sign onto a deal like that?

YOHO: No. I didn't make any. The only pledge that I made is I said I would serve eight years, and I'm going home.

INSKEEP: You term-limited yourself.

YOHO: I did.

INSKEEP: OK. So you talked about these issues, but you left yourself flexibility, you believe, based on...

YOHO: Yeah. I mean, and that goes back to the Norquist Pledge. You know, if you sign a pledge like that, you've got handcuffs on. The people of our district were just kind of fed up in the direction of the country and the inefficiencies of what was going on in Washington. And being a veterinarian, we're faced with situations with a patient that can't talk, and we've got to do our diagnostics and then take our diagnostics and formulate a good, workable plan for the favorable outcome. And if we don't do that, of course, we don't get called back. So...


YOHO: ...I've got to do that here, or I won't get sent back up here.

INSKEEP: Ask you for a one-word answer, even though it's unfair. You've got three large issues here: tax rates, federal spending, national debt. If forced to say which of those was the most vital problem that must be dealt with, which of the three would it be?

YOHO: The federal debt.

INSKEEP: So if something has to give way on the other two, that's OK, because the debt is the most vital.

YOHO: It is. You know, and you go back to what Admiral Mullen said back when he was a Joint Chiefs of Staff.

INSKEEP: Mike Mullen, right.

YOHO: And he said the biggest threat to our national security is our debt. You know, why is that? That's created here in the halls of Congress. You know, that's - again, that goes back to what we ran on. You know, we've got to get that under control. And if we don't get that under control, you know, a lot of these other things we worry about, they're going to not really mean a whole lot. This is a time to be Americans, and let's put America first. And that's why I won't sign a pledge. I gave a pledge to my wife, and, you know, this other stuff is - we've just got to work through this.

INSKEEP: Ted Yoho is a newly elected Republican member of Congress from Florida. Thanks for coming by.

YOHO: Yes, sir. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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