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Debt limit fight brings N.C.'s Ellmers close to GOP leadership

WASHINGTON _ Freshman Rep. Renee Ellmers rode a wave of voter discontent to Congress last year, and like other conservative members of the freshman class, her tea party supporters expected her to hold the line on cutting spending and reducing debt.

In the past few weeks, however, Ellmers has emerged as one of the House of Representatives leadership's strongest freshman allies in the debate over raising the debt limit. While Speaker John Boehner has struggled to corral the more restive members of his caucus, Ellmers, who won a close race in her North Carolina district last year with a strong push from tea party activists, has stood by him.

Thursday, she appeared at the Capitol with Boehner and other GOP leaders to urge her colleagues to vote for Boehner's debt-limit plan, which would cut $900 billion over 10 years _ an amount that many tea party activists consider insufficient.

"It's not 100 percent of what many of our very conservative colleagues want, but it is about 70-75 percent," she said. "This is not about who's the most conservative. This is about common sense."

Steven Green, an associate political science professor at North Carolina State University, said it's politically smart for Ellmers to align herself closely with Boehner.

"She seems to want to do bigger things," he said. "Part of that is getting on the leadership train."

However, Laura Long, the organizer of Triangle Conservatives Unite, a North Carolina tea party group, said "there's some disappointment" in Ellmers.

"From my point of view, she hasn't done much with the tea party since she was elected," long said. "She promised us in many speeches that she was going up there to make changes."

Jay Parmley, the executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said that the tea party activists who helped put Ellmers over the top should be disappointed.

"She should be dancing with the ones that brung her, but she isn't," he said. "She's decided she would rather be in good with the speaker."

Ellmers said she knows that conservative activists are paying attention.

"The tea party has very strong, core principles," she told Fox Business Network Thursday. "I do believe they're holding our feet to the fire."

Ellmers voted for the Republican "cut, cap and balance" plan, which included a balanced budget amendment supported by many tea party conservatives, but while that legislation sailed through the House, Senate Democrats stopped it cold. Ellmers said she supports a compromise plan because she recognizes what Republicans are up against.

"This is what we have to do in order to get this country moving ahead. We don't want to come upon that Aug. 2 date without a plan to move forward," she said Thursday at a news conference. "This is simply a bridge."

Former Rep. Robin Hayes, the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, said Ellmers has discovered what every other newly elected member of Congress does: Getting elected is one thing, but governing is another.

"If you've never been there and under the gun, it's hard to understand what true success looks like," he said. "I think she's worked very hard to accomplish the goals people sent her to Washington for."

However, Long said that many of Ellmers' supporters aren't satisfied with Boehner's plan, or Ellmers support of it, saying it's not what they sent her to Washington to do.

"I think she's new, and people are trying to cut her a little slack, Long said. "We don't have time to cut her a whole lot of slack."

Green said he thought initially that Ellmers would be as unbending as many of her 86 fellow freshman GOP colleagues. But he said Ellmers has "surprised" him since then.

"She is certainly somebody who's looking at things at a more pragmatic and ambitious way," he said.

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