Americans jam phone lines, websites on debt talks
President Obama asked Americans to reach out to Congress to make their voices heard on the debt-ceiling debate — and so they did.
Debt-ceiling developmentsBoehner setback: House Speaker John Boehner was rewriting his plan to cut federal spending and raise the debt ceiling Tuesday night after the Congressional Budget Office revealed that his bill would cut spending by $850 billion over the next decade, less than the $1.2 trillion promised in the bill. Rep. Jim Jordan, a tea party-backed Republican from Ohio, said there aren't 218 GOP votes to pass Boehner's two-step plan to cut federal spending and extend the debt ceiling for about six months. Many conservatives think it wouldn't cut spending enough.
Veto threat: White House spokesman Jay Carney repeated President Obama's threat to veto Boehner's bill should it make it through Congress, which he said isn't going to happen because the Senate would never pass it.
Senate plan: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was having a hard time mustering enough Republican support to get the 60 votes he needs to pass his plan, which is similar to Boehner's. The major difference is that Reid's plan would extend the federal government's borrowing authority through 2012 — beyond the presidential and congressional elections.
IMF warning: Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, warned Tuesday of dire consequences for the world economy if lawmakers fail to act by the Aug. 2 default deadline.
Seattle Times news services
WASHINGTON — President Obama asked Americans to reach out to Congress to make their voices heard on the debt-ceiling debate — and so they did.
Thousands of callers flooded the Capitol switchboard Tuesday, and email traffic swamped congressional servers. The website of Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., crashed briefly, as did those of did Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Reps. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla.
"It's been pretty busy today," said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. "The poor interns are having a good time."
The Capitol, which typically handles 20,000 calls per hour, saw spikes of up to 40,000 Tuesday, rivaling the 50,000-an-hour rate of the health-care debate.
Moments after dueling speeches by the president and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, a number of congressional websites were overloaded with traffic. Some were still slow to load, if at all, more than 12 hours later.
The "sluggishness" of certain House websites was attributable to outside vendors that some members use.
"We did step in and help alleviate some of the Web traffic problems as soon as we realized what was going on," said Dan Weiser, spokesman for the Capitol Call Center chief administrative officer.
A staffer to one California Republican said that office lines were jammed, and suspected coordination by organizations like AARP, MoveOn and "tea party"-aligned groups.
Conservative groups, such as FreedomWorks, founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, quickly mobilized their supporters.
"Congress and Capitol Hill have been flooded, with emails and phones, switchboards are jammed, servers going down. So it's clear the American people are frustrated by the lack of compromise in Washington," said David Plouffe, the president's senior adviser, who was clearly getting exactly the response the White House had sought when the president on Monday called Washington, D.C., a town "where compromise has become a dirty word."
The details of their opinions varied widely, but callers and emailers across the country seemed to agree with the president, who warned Congress that even if Americans voted for divided government last fall, they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government. Those heeding the president's advice to make their voices heard on the debate had one common refrain: Get it done.
"Most folks just want Congress to act. I agree," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who intends to support the debt plan that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has put forward. Reid's plan could come up for a vote as early as Wednesday; a separate proposal by Boehner is scheduled to be voted on Thursday.
Sen. Patty Murray's office received thousands of calls and emails, said her spokesman Mat McAlvanah, and Murray included some of the emails in a speech she gave on Tuesday before Congress.
"Four-to-one, the calls that came in were calls for compromise," he said.
"Many of the calls were from veterans. They're concerned because their benefits and compensation are threatened by default, just as other government-supported programs are."
Phones were "lighting up" all day at the offices of Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, said a spokesman.
"Seattle residents — en masse — called our offices today in Washington, D.C., and especially in Seattle," he said. "We heard from everyone: from seniors, from students, from the unemployed."
Casey Bowman, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, said both the congresswoman's Vancouver, Wash., and Washington, D.C., offices were seeing high volumes of calls Tuesday.
Callers fell into three broad categories, he said: those "from folks who are thanking Jaime for holding firm with regard to spending reform in Washington, D.C.," those "from people who simply want to see leaders in D.C. work together and come up with a solution" without specifying the details of their preferred solution; and those "from people worried that Social Security won't be protected under a potential plan."
In the office of Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who hails from a state where tea-party support helped launch him into public office, many of the calls and emails were from constituents urging him to hold firm in the debt debate.
In Florida, where an older population makes the future of Medicare and Social Security at the front and center of the debt-ceiling debate, Nelson's office got more than 5,500 emails Tuesday morning.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, apologized for a sluggish website.
"We're working to get things back to normal," he wrote on Facebook. "I am happy so many Alaskans are speaking out for the need to put politics aside so we can reach a fair and balanced compromise to reduce our deficit and address the debt ceiling."
Rep. Tim Scott's coastal district in South Carolina is predominantly Republican, but his office phones in the state and in D.C. were ringing nonstop with calls from many Democrats and independents in response to Obama's appeal.
"We're definitely hearing from both sides," said Sean Smith, a spokesman for Scott, who holds a House of Representatives GOP leadership post representing the party's large freshman class.
"The congressman has even picked up the phone a couple of times himself today just to make sure people know he is hearing and listening to them," Smith said. "We have a fairly strong Republican district, but we're hearing from a lot of people who don't necessarily agree with 'cap and balance,' " which is a conservative plan to slash federal spending.
The House passed the "cut, cap and balance" bill, co-authored by fellow South Carolina Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney, along party lines last week, but it has little chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The office of freshman Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., had received 500 to 600 emails by midday. Spokesman Steve Walsh said sentiment was running against the debt-reduction plan from House Republicans.
In the adjacent Missouri congressional district, held by Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, calls increased and more than 200 emails about the issue turned up in the office's inbox. About two-thirds wanted to raise the debt ceiling, increase revenues and cut spending, and the balance said deep spending cuts should accompany any hike in the ceiling.
Across the state line in Kansas, the issue appeared to be very much on the public's mind. Andrea Candrian, a spokesman for Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the office got more than 1,000 emails after the president's speech Monday night, and the phones began ringing as soon as the office opened Tuesday morning.
"The calls are all over the board," she said.
Material from The (Vancouver, Wash.) Columbian was used in this report.
Seattle Times staff reporter Roberto Daza contributed.
Trending on seattletimes.com
Most viewed photo galleries
The Morning Memo
The Morning Memo jump starts your day with weather, traffic and news
Career Center Blog