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Congress overwhelmed with public input on debt debate

Lawmakers' websites and phones are swamped as Americans heed President Obama's call to contact their Congress members about the debt ceiling gridlock.

July 27, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau
  • Days away from a debt default, voters across the country have answered President Barack Obama's call for them to contact Congress and many politicians' websites were inaccessible.
Days away from a debt default, voters across the country have answered President… (Linda D. Epstein / MCT )

Reporting from Washington — Congressional offices were deluged with feedback Tuesday after President Obama urged Americans to make their voices heard on the gridlocked debt ceiling debate.

Moments after dueling prime-time speeches by the president and Republican Speaker of the House John A. Boehner on Monday night, several congressional websites were overloaded with traffic. A day later, some were still slow to load, if they did at all.

On Tuesday morning, the Capitol call center said in a memo that House telephone circuits were "near capacity" due to the high volume of incoming calls.

A spokesman for the office of the chief administrative officer said that at the peak, House offices received a combined 40,000 calls in an hour — twice the typical volume. Some callers got a busy signal, but the number was not significant, spokesman Dan Weiser said.

The sluggishness of some House websites was attributable to outside Internet providers used by some members, he said.

"We did step in and help alleviate some of the Web traffic problems as soon as we realized what was going on," Weiser said.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) said the phones in his Capitol Hill office were "ringing off the hook" at midmorning. Calls included a lot of "scared seniors," the spokeswoman said, adding that Rohrabacher believes the administration has misled seniors into believing their Social Security checks are at risk.

The calls, mostly from outside the congressman's district, favored the president's position, "but not by much," she said.

Calls and emails to Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) tended to support a compromise, spokeswoman Angela Sachitano said.

"The calls today were civil, along the same theme of compromise and 'Let's get something done, we're frustrated,' " she said. West supports Boehner's proposal to raise the debt ceiling in two steps, both tied to cuts in spending.

The office of fellow Florida Rep. Connie Mack said most callers had urged him to "hold the line." Mack was one of nine Republicans who voted against his party's "cut, cap and balance" plan because he opposes any increase in the $14.3-trillion debt ceiling.

Emails to Rep. Elton Gallegly's office came in at five times the normal rate. The messages, along with calls and faxes, represented a broad spectrum of opinion, according to a spokesman for the Simi Valley Republican.

"The people are very passionate about the issue, as they should be," spokesman Thomas Pfeifer said.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat who is up for reelection in 2012, said in a statement that his office had received hundreds of calls and more than 5,500 emails, many supporting Obama's call for a "balanced solution."

"Most folks just want Congress to act," Nelson said. "I agree."

Others were mobilizing as well. The liberal group MoveOn.org organized protests at several congressional district offices. The website of the conservative group FreedomWorks provided visitors with phone numbers and talking points to urge lawmakers to vote against Boehner's plan.

In issuing a call to action Monday night, Obama told the nation: "I'm asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of Congress know.

"If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message," he said.

"There's certainly anecdotal evidence that many Americans are doing just that," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. He said he did not know if the White House had received an unusual number of calls.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

Richard Simon, William E. Gibson and Katherine Skiba in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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