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July 26, 2011 12:25 PM Public answers POTUS call to action

By Steve Benen

In his national address last night, President Obama said, “The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government. So 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.”

I guess I’m jaded, because I didn’t really expect large numbers of Americans to respond to the presidential call to action. I’m glad I was wrong — a lot of people are taking the president’s advice.

Tuesday morning, the congressional switchboard sent an email to congressional offices that read: “Due to the high volume of external calls, House telephone circuits serving 202-225-XXXX phone numbers are near capacity resulting in outside callers occasionally getting busy signals.” The 225 exchange is the one used by members of the House. In spot calls to six House offices Tuesday morning, a busy signal was often found.

And that’s just the phone lines. House web servers have also been overwhelmed.

Obviously, there’s no way to know for sure what those reaching out to lawmakers are saying, or what the ratio is of pro-compromise folks to anti-compromise. That said, if the calls are roughly equivalent to all the recent national polls, most of those contacting the Hill agree with the White House, not congressional Republicans.

What’s more, the volume is likely to increase — Organizing for America will reportedly use its lists today to encourage more outreach, nearly all of which will likely be in opposition to the GOP.

Following up on an earlier point, it’s safe to assume that most of the hard-line conservatives are immune to public pressure, and won’t care about any of this. But for GOP members who are on the fence, and are perhaps worried about their re-election prospects in competitive districts, could a sudden flood of calls, letters, emails, and faxes move a few House votes? Absolutely.

If you’ve been trying to reach Capitol Hill to weigh in with your own concerns, you can keep trying the main switchboard; you can contact your representative’s local offices, and there are some online tools to help people contact Congress that still appear to be working.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Michael W on July 26, 2011 12:34 PM:

    I guess I'm lucky in that I don't have to contact my reps. Both senators (Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell) and my rep (Norm Dicks) are on the side of sanity, justice and common sense...

  • c u n d gulag on July 26, 2011 12:42 PM:

    I live in NY, so my Senators are fine.

    The district where I live regressed and voted in some dimwit Teabagging Opthamologist as our Conngresswoman - and what is it with the Opthamologists running as Conservatives?

    I'm going to hold off until the rush is over, and call in my "Debt Threat" this afternoon.

    And no CAPTCHA - resseces locali is incorrect.
    It's national - and soon may be global.

  • km on July 26, 2011 12:49 PM:

    I suspect that most of the calls are from the right-wing crowd. That is more their MO.

  • Elie on July 26, 2011 12:50 PM:


    I tried Rick Larson(D) (WA)Representative...nothing, fax, calls goes through so will try later. He is a blue dog that I can't take for granted. Our district has become more red in recent years..

  • Danp on July 26, 2011 12:51 PM:

    Don't just call or e-mail your rep. Tell them you are working on a letter to the editor and want a specific detail like how hedge fund manager tax rates create jobs. Let them know you know how much money they received from XXX, which you can find by going to Opensecrets.org and entering your rep's name. Then follow through. If you don't get an answer, you can put in your letter to the editor that Cong. X was unable or unwilling to respond.

  • Holmes on July 26, 2011 12:52 PM:

    Your link to online tools goes to Americans United for Change, whose generic message supports the President's plan, which in turn includes cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The President on Friday night said he offered "$650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security" and that future recipients of Medicare and Social Security are "going to have to make some adjustments." So... are you saying we should support those cuts?

  • Kane on July 26, 2011 12:53 PM:

    Even if you believe that your call or e-mail will have no direct influence on your representative, the emerging story of phone lines being tied up in Washington and House web servers being overwhelmed by the presidentís call to action is being noticed by the media. That can change a narrative and put added pressure on representatives.

  • Danp on July 26, 2011 12:54 PM:

    P.S. to my 12:51 comment.

    Have the courtesy to send your congressman a copy of the letter to the editor. I find that these usually get a reaction.

  • ShadeTail on July 26, 2011 1:04 PM:

    Here is another resource for contacting your congress-critters, courtesy the fine folks at Balloon Juice.

  • Daniel Kim on July 26, 2011 1:05 PM:

    @Holmes: The Americans United for Change email form allows you to write your own letter, although they provide their form letter by default. If you use their form, certainly write your own words in the body of the letter. It may be that such individually written letters have more impact than a pile of 'click here' form letters.

  • Trollopoly on July 26, 2011 1:06 PM:

    Well, I have no idea what Gramma Difi stands for but self incrimination.. But I may give another shout to Zoey Loffgren and Mike Honda although they appear to be a given as to where they stand, same for Ms. Boxer.

  • jlt on July 26, 2011 1:08 PM:

    Do not give up...Every call must be heard..cantor the weasel scrubbed his facebook and email accounts but his local office is up...

    Every voice MUST BE POLITE BUT FIRM!!!!

    1.866.311.3405 another number for congress!

  • LRM on July 26, 2011 1:14 PM:

    Good advice Shade Tail, you beat me to it. Go to the Balloon Juice thread "How to send a fax for free".

  • EdTheRed on July 26, 2011 1:19 PM:

    I live in DC. If one more person encourages me to "call my senators" or "write my congressman" (or tweets using the #f*ckyouwashington hastag, for that matter) I'mma go all Michael-Douglas-in-Falling-Down up in here.

    And for the record, if you live in DC and call random congresspeople to register your feelings, they care about as much as they would if you were offering to sell them the latest in snake oil technology.

  • k l m on July 26, 2011 1:29 PM:

    Check our your reps on Facebook.

    And are email and phone records subject to open records requests?? Just askin'.

  • George on July 26, 2011 1:33 PM:

    Funny how Mata Liasson on NPR this morning questioned the fact that servers were being overwhelmed... Leave it to NPR to spin things towards Fox News...

  • Danp on July 26, 2011 1:35 PM:

    EdTheRed - Part of the problem is, of course, that living in DC, you have no representation. Calling other people's is a complete waste of time.

  • burro on July 26, 2011 1:37 PM:

    km @ 12:49 PM:

    "I suspect that most of the calls are from the right-wing crowd. That is more their MO."

    Nothing wrong with that MO. Left wing calls help too. Righties suck, but they are good at making noise. And it's obvious that too many fools are listening.

  • Gretchen on July 26, 2011 1:38 PM:

    I've called my guy, Kevin Yoder, a couple of times recently. He won a seat in a reddish district that has been held for several terms by a Blue Dog Democrat who retired. I called a couple of weeks ago to remind him that this is not a tea-party district, and again today. Last time I called, the guy in the office seemed to be taking notes, and I got back a detailed letter about his positions that answered some of my concerns, so I think he at least is listening. I asked today if he's one of the guys who pledged not to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances, and she said he doesn't believe in pledges.

  • Melissa on July 26, 2011 1:57 PM:

    The website of my right-wing congressman, Scott Garrett, is down so I'm hoping it's because of balanced-approach supporters trying to contact him. I did get through to his D.C. office, though, and gave my message, politely, to a harried staffer.

    Last night, I took a pass on Obama's suggestion because Garrett is so extreme, but I'm encouraged now. Not that it will change Garrett's vote -- but if you have a Tea Party congressperson, make them hurt for their intransigence!

  • Holmes on July 26, 2011 1:58 PM:

    @Daniel Kim

    Thanks, you are entirely correct.

    Cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are part of the Obama "balanced approach" which we are asked to support by contacting Congress. I would be curious what Steve has to say: does he support Obama's proposed cuts to SSMM as part of a debt ceiling deal?

  • r on July 26, 2011 1:58 PM:

    Dear Senator Kyl,

    I am writing to let you know that I support raising taxes on those of us who have been lucky enough to prosper in the past decade. Under Bill Clinton, we paid higher taxes and created plenty of jobs. Since George Bush's tax cuts, the country has lost jobs. It is time to make those of us who are well-off pay our fair share.

  • goterpsgo on July 26, 2011 2:06 PM:

    I did my part... I wrote my congress-critter - last week. Since he's already a (D), he agreed with my frustrations. There's not much I can do since he and both my Senators are (D)...

  • Terry on July 26, 2011 2:09 PM:

    @Michael W and others in his boat (as am I): You need to contact the sane ones, too. Show them what you support. Make their tally of +/- messages be favorable. Urge them to work on their less-sane colleagues and to share your message or at least the count of messages like yours.

  • T2 on July 26, 2011 2:12 PM:

    of course no one knows what the For/Against totals were.....but I promise that Boner will have no problem coming out and saying;
    " The president asked the people of the nation to call us, and they have. The overwhelming majority of calls favor my Cut, Cap bill and almost no one was for the President's plan, which doesn't exist, or Reids plan, which I have not read"

    He could do that with a totally straight face and without shame. That is a GOPer for you.

  • Felicia on July 26, 2011 2:43 PM:

    Steve, I disagree with you that the "hard-line conservatives are immune to public pressure." If they get many calls like my mom's, they can't help but think the tide is turning for this who tea party "movement".

  • N.Wells on July 26, 2011 2:44 PM:

    If you have a Dem rep or senator, call them anyway. They can use all the positive reinforcement that they get. Also contact fence-sitting R politicians who aren't your reps, and note that if they vote the wrong way, you are looking forward to making a contribution to their opponent. Also call the hopeless cases: dems do a great job of demoralizing themselves, so perhaps we can spread some of that around to the R's. When writing to someone who doesn't represent you, feel free to note friends or relatives in their district, or that you plan to write letters to newspapers in their district or plan to contribute to their opponent. It probably won't have much effect individually (so some earlier commenters on other threads pooh-poohed the idea of writing your representatives), but the aggregate effect can be important. Being in front of a mob with pitchforks gives a leader considerable leadership motivation, one way or another, (depending on which end of the pitchfork they anticipate being handed).

  • Cha on July 26, 2011 3:03 PM:

    I read a lot of reality based sites last night where they were actually getting in touch with their Congresspeople and found servers down and mail boxes full.

    If there was ever a time to get active this is it. Too bad if the so-called "conservatives"(I call them greedy lying sacks of shyte) don't listen to anyone but teabaggers. The subject will be changed and we'll see where it takes us.

  • QuestionEverything on July 26, 2011 3:08 PM:

    The phone number to the Capital Switchboard is (202) 224-3121. You can go to your congress person's website and pull phone numbers that are direct to their office if you want to avoid the switchboard that is being overloaded.

    I called my congressman, an 'R', and in Georgia they're hard-lined idiots who can't get their facts straight but I called anyway. I wrote the White House to support him and I will be emailing my two Republican senators to tell them that I do not support the House Republicans in their irresponsible attempt to use the debt ceiling vote in an attempt to leverage their budget positions.

    I expect to get a lot of junk mail from these guys, now that they have my mailing address, but I'll keep pushing to do what needs to be done despite their failed approach to governing and inability to work with Obama and the Dems.

  • bardgal on July 26, 2011 4:52 PM:

    @Holmes - President Obama has said REPEATEDLY - NO CUTS TO BENEFITS for SS/Medicare/Medicade - there are tons of waste and fraud they can cut as well as the ridiculous contribution cap so everyone pays the same % including those who make over $106k.

    Go to the SOURCE - listen to the POTUS. Stop reading warped opinion. If you're an adult who understands English - Obama is very easy to understand.

    http://theobamadiary.com/2011/07/23/if-you-want-to-be-a-leader-then-you-got-to-lead

  • slf on July 26, 2011 5:07 PM:

    My congressman is a CA Republican; the word hack comes to mind, but lobbyist lapdog fits too, so decide for yourself: he's Dan Lungren. Still, to do my part, I called his DC and local offices. DC answered, the person was polite, I said my piece. The local guy got the jist, put me on hold (military marching music) and returned after some time eager to argue.

    I said (pretty much exactly in these words) that it was time to pay the bills the Bush Administration had run up, he said, "But what about the last four years?" I wanted to say, "Who was president four years ago?" (I'm a typical liberal, always wanting to help by providing the facts, etc.). Instead, to my own surprise, I snapped, "Don't try to argue with me, you'll just try to blame this on Obama, he didn't cause this, and it's not your job to argue with me..."

    He laughed out loud. "Oh no?" he said. "Right," I answered. "Your job is to answer the phone for the congressman and make a note of what I, a voter in his district, think about a topic." He paused. "As long as you're respectful." I said, "You're the one who put me on hold when I asked you not to. Here's the point. You break the economy, you'll take the blame. We know what's going on, you've turned an accounting method into a false issue of accountability, and if you break the fiscal world here and globally everybody will know. How you sleep at night is anybody's guess. And so many people are writing that your server is down, and it it weren't I could have written and not imposed on your telephone time." Which last was stupid, but I was on a roll.

    And I'm not sorry.

  • Anonymous on July 26, 2011 10:50 PM:

    "Entitlement"? I PAID cash for my social security insurance! Our benefits aren't some kind of charity or handout! Congressional benefits: premium Federal health care, outrageous retirement packages, 67 paid holidays, three weeks paid vacation, unlimited paid sick days, now THAT'S welfare! And they have the nerve to call my retirement an entitlement!

  • irisuuu on July 27, 2011 5:54 AM:

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  • jlt on July 27, 2011 9:21 AM:

    BOTH SIDES NEED TO BE CONTACTED...The good reps/senators need to know we support them and are watching..The insane baggers that we see their stupidity and it will not be rewarded!

    Switchboard 1.866.311.3405!

    A blank check is a lie..BC is being allowed to continue by the media when it means FOR FUTURE SPENDING..This is about what has ALREADY BEEN SPENT by congress

  • Anonymous on July 27, 2011 10:18 AM:

    EdTheRed on July 26, 2011 1:19 PM:

    "I live in DC. If one more person encourages me to "call my senators" or "write my congressman" (or tweets using the #f*ckyouwashington hastag, for that matter) I'mma go all Michael-Douglas-in-Falling-Down up in here.

    And for the record, if you live in DC and call random congresspeople to register your feelings, they care about as much as they would if you were offering to sell them the latest in snake oil technology."

    How do you know? I'll continue to call whoever I think needs calling. Yes, they have constituents, but in reality they work for all of us, and if they abuse that privilege they should expect to hear from any taxpayer. And after the Tea Bagger town hall crap, I consider any GOP lawmaker fair game to get read the Riot Act.

  • TR on July 27, 2011 10:34 AM:

    slf, that was awesome.

  • POed Lib on July 27, 2011 2:13 PM:

    Of all physicians, opthamologists are possibly the least intelligent, since there is little of interest in diseases of the eye. If you get into med school, the best students become neurosurgeons, cardiac, or endocrinologists. The dermatologists and opthamologists are the least intelligent. Just an amateur observation, mind you, but I word with physicians and see them frequently.

  • yellowdog on July 27, 2011 2:35 PM:

    @Anon 10:18
    Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is DC's elected representative in the House. She does not have floor voting privileges, but she does have the right to vote in committee. (For instance, she is in the middle of the FAA spat because she is on one of the relevant committees.) I consider her one of the most effective Members of Congress, even though her formal power is less than that of other members. Anyone who has seen her on Colbert knows she takes no guff. She is a tough advocate for her constituents.

    The District does not have full and equal voting rights or real home rule. The GOP likes to meddle in DC affairs when it suits them but it refuses to take any real responsibility for city government. No other city in the US is governed like this.

  • Bob Elkins on July 28, 2011 2:06 AM:

    I am stuck with Joe Walsh. I live in Northern Illinois District 8. He beat out Melissa Bean, a bluedog. I think she messed her own career acting like a dino and voter apathy kept Dems from polls. I believe my district has the representation it deserves. BTW, I voted

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