Tea Party-Backed Lawmaker Meets With Constituency As talk in Washington turns to a possible government shutdown, members of Congress return home to hear from their constituents. Florida Republican Rep. Daniel Webster, who's holding a meeting in his hometown of Winter Garden, is in an interesting position. He was elected with Tea Party support, but represents a swing district that went for President Obama and was formerly represented by outspoken Democrat Alan Grayson.
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Tea Party-Backed Lawmaker Meets With Constituency

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Tea Party-Backed Lawmaker Meets With Constituency

Tea Party-Backed Lawmaker Meets With Constituency

Tea Party-Backed Lawmaker Meets With Constituency

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134003970/134003949" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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As talk in Washington turns to a possible government shutdown, members of Congress return home to hear from their constituents. Florida Republican Rep. Daniel Webster, who's holding a meeting in his hometown of Winter Garden, is in an interesting position. He was elected with Tea Party support, but represents a swing district that went for President Obama and was formerly represented by outspoken Democrat Alan Grayson.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

We heard mention there of a spending bill recently passed in the House of Representatives with $61 billion of cuts. For freshmen Republicans, it was a victory. They pushed the GOP leadership to cut deeper and slash funding for things like Planned Parenthood and Pell Grants for college.

NPR's Greg Allen went to one congressman's town hall in Winter Garden, Florida, to hear how those cuts are playing back home.

GREG ALLEN: There are lots of political newcomers in the House freshman class. And then there's Republican Congressman Daniel Webster. He shares a name, of course, with one of America's great statesman, and in his central Florida district he's just about as well-respected. He served 28 years in Florida's legislature before being elected to Congress last year. He's proud of the House spending cuts but says their impact shouldn't be overestimated.

Representative DANIEL WEBSTER (Republican, Florida): This is one step in the right direction. It's like putting the credit card up one day a month, that's all. There's still going to use it...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. WEBSTER: ...the rest of the month, but at least we're putting it up one day.

(Soundbite of applause)

ALLEN: It's Webster's first town hall since being elected, at the Municipal Building in downtown Winter Garden. More than 100 people are there. Webster tells the audience he has a name for this series of town halls: Stop the Spigot of Spending.

Rep. WEBSTER: As you turn it down, just as we saw this week, and we just took 100 million out, the priorities started rising to the top. So did Planned Parenthood lose all their money? Yes, they did, every dime of it.

(Soundbite of applause)

Rep. WEBSTER: Did Obamacare lose all its money? Yes, it did.

(Soundbite of applause)

ALLEN: There's a lot of support for Webster in the audience and something more: a strong Tea Party sentiment. As a long-time Republican leader in Florida, Daniel Webster predates the Tea Party. In fact, he had to defeat Tea Party candidates to win his congressional seat.

Webster says he shares the strong Tea Party commitment to cutting spending and reining in government, but as he takes questions, some in the audience, like Bob Bomea(ph), tell Webster they want him to go further.

Mr. BOB BOMEA: Eliminate the Department of Education. Eliminate it. Just get rid of it. We don't need it anymore.

(Soundbite of applause)

Rep. WEBSTER: Well, yes, there are several - I think you have to look at every piece of it...

ALLEN: Webster's not ready to pledge doing away with the Department of Education, the EPA or the IRS, as Bomea asks, but says he believes the federal government should give the states education money as block grants, with no strings attached.

One member of the audience takes Webster to task for not cutting more from defense spending. Another person encourages him to vote no on raising the debt limit, the amount of money the federal government can borrow. The Obama administration says failing to raise the debt limit would risk default and have severe economic consequences.

Webster said he would vote no but sees political leverage there for Republicans.

Rep. WEBSTER: I don't mind going on cash for a while. What I would like to do, though, because of the situation we have, is trade it like a trade for repeal of Obamacare or something like that.

ALLEN: The vote on the debt limit won't come for at least another month. Coming much sooner is a showdown over the spending bill. President Obama and Democrats in the Senate are unlikely to go along with the House cuts. If House Republicans refuse to compromise, a government shutdown becomes increasingly likely.

Webster says he and House Republican leadership are not looking to shut down the government. But among many at the town hall, there was clearly another opinion: Get the attention of Democrats by shutting it down.

Bob Bomea said Republicans should not fear a replay of 1995.

Mr. BOMEA: It's a completely different sentiment out there in the community. If it ends up that government gets shut down, the perception is not going to be that the Republicans shut it down. It's going to be that the Democrats did it.

ALLEN: Congressman Webster came home this week with a message that Congress is making a good start on controlling spending. At his first town hall, the message he heard back is: That's not enough.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Winter Garden, Florida.

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