Conservative Rep. Allen Backs Boehner's Plan

As Republicans and the White House spar over the debt ceiling, Tea Party-backed Rep. Allen West of Florida convened a telephone town hall meeting with constituents Wednesday evening.

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To get 218 votes in the House, Speaker John Boehner would need to go one of two places. He would either need to ask Democrats for help, which his team would rather not do, or he would need to round up at least some first-year lawmakers with Tea Party credentials, lawmakers who prefer a bill that cuts spending more.

One Republican freshman now backing Boehner is Florida's Allen West. He represents an affluent area along the state's east coast stretching from Fort Lauderdale to Palm Beach.

NPR's Greg Allen visited the congressman's district.

GREGORY: ALLEN: There aren't a whole lot of congressional districts in America that have better beaches or better shopping than Florida's 22.

In Boca Raton's Mizner Park area yesterday, fountains bubbled and Cindy Newman took a break from her job at a nearby boutique.

Ms. CINDY NEWMAN: What do I think about it? I think it's sad.

ALLEN: Newman is worried about what may happen if the U.S. goes into default. But she thinks Allen West and other Republicans have been doing the right thing - insisting on big spending cuts as part of any deal to raise the debt limit.

Ms. NEWMAN: All Obama wants to do is keep spending money. Nobody wants to cut anything. Everybody's for entitlements. I have certainly had to cut back in the last four years and I expect them to too. All I read about is how much money they make and all I'm doing is trying to survive.

ALLEN: A few miles away, outside a Whole Foods Market, Democrat Alan Rogoff(ph) says he's no fan of Allen West or at this point any elected officials from either party.

Mr. ALAN ROGOFF: And I think the people in Washington don't give a damn about us, from top to bottom, OK?

ALLEN: Do you think there's actually a chance we're going to default here?

Mr. ROGOFF: No. They'll do something at the last minute and they'll all try to be heroes. And like I say, none of them are my heroes.

ALLEN: Polls show a lot of people share Rogoff's attitudes. With the prolonged debt limit debate, President Obama's approval ratings have dropped and approval ratings for Congress are at near-record lows, under 20 percent.

Outside a popular eating spot in Boca Raton, the Boca Diner, Mike Cooper says he's sick of the in-fighting but doesn't blame his congressman, Allen West.

Mr. MIKE COOPER: I think he's trying hard. I'm an independent and at this point I don't think Obama's going to be getting in again. The way he's run this country, to come down to the final end and to have to fight it out and duke it out - for what?

ALLEN: Cooper thinks this is just more political theater and the parties will agree on a compromise in the end. If that's going to happen, the first step might be getting Republicans to support House Speaker John Boehner's plan. That plan got a boost this week when Allen West was one of the first Tea Party stalwarts to come out in support.

A former Army lieutenant colonel and the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, West has become one of the stars of the freshman class. Last night he held a telephone town hall with constituents in which he explained why he was supporting a plan that didn't give conservatives all they wanted.

Representative ALLEN WEST (Republican, Florida): This will be the first time in the history of the United States of America that the debt limit will have been raised but will be accompanied by spending cuts, and these are spending cuts that are real and they are above what the debt ceiling is being raised. So I know a lot of people may feel that that is not enough, but when you look at the fact that this still has to go to the Senate, to the president, this is a good solution, it's a good way ahead.

ALLEN: West's staff said some 1,100 people called in for the teleconference. One caller asked West why he wouldn't compromise with the Democrats. That's exactly what the Boehner plan is, West said, a compromise, that includes only about three-quarters of what he and other conservatives want.

One caller, identified only as Harold from West Palm Beach, asked why member of Congress, like the so-called Gang of Six senators, were important to the debt limit debate. What about the 87 Republican freshmen elected to the House last November?

HAROLD: Why don't we hear of the gang of 87 that said the American people spoke and we're here and we're not going to compromise? And you compromise at your own peril in November of 2012.

ALLEN: West said he didn't think this compromise represents a political risk. With the possibility that a default could lead to higher interest rates, West says it shows that he's both a principled conservative and a reasonable individual.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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