House telephone lines, websites jammed after Obama debt speech

House websites and telephone lines were jammed Tuesday after President Obama asked voters to call their lawmakers about the debt-ceiling fight. 

Traffic picked up immediately after Obama’s prime-time address Monday, and callers trying to reach lawmaker offices on Tuesday morning were likely to get a busy signal. 

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House phone lines peaked at about 40,000 calls between noon and 1 p.m., according to the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), while websites crashed due to high visitor traffic throughout the day. 

Caller traffic dipped back down to normal levels after 1, and by about 5 p.m. traffic was back at the usual level of about 20,000 phone calls per day. A number of lawmaker websites remained down from the heavy traffic. 

In his address, Obama pressed voters to contact their lawmakers and voice support for a balanced approach to increasing the debt ceiling that would include spending cuts, entitlement reforms and increased taxes. 

“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,” Obama said. 

Congressional staffers cautioned that it was impossible to tell whether the phone lines were busy from people calling to voice support or opposition to raising the debt ceiling or to proposals from Democrats or Republicans.

House CAO spokesman Dan Weiser said that lawmakers’ websites and phone lines began to sag with the traffic on Monday night. 

“Last night we had some website problems. ... There was some websites that were hosted by outside vendors that had slowness, sluggishness, people had trouble getting in. And that was rectified early this morning,” Weiser said. “We’re getting lots of phone calls this morning, I know that, and that’s slowing the system down.”

Phone and email traffic often explodes on the eve of big votes in the House and Senate. The House could vote Wednesday on Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) proposal to raise the debt ceiling. 

Jammed phone lines and high Internet traffic also occurred during the debates on a financial-rescue package in 2008 and during the healthcare reform debate.

The last time House phone lines received as many calls as were coming in Tuesday was during the healthcare reform fight, when House phone lines reached 50,000 calls in an hour, according to congressional sources. 

Democrats and Republicans alike sought to seize on the traffic, with each side contending most of the callers were backing their position. 

Democrats said most callers voiced opposition to cutting entitlements like Medicare and Social Security benefits. 

“House operators and member offices are being deluged by calls and emails from Americans who understand the seriousness of default and, unlike many members on the other side of the aisle, feel that the stakes are too high to play political brinksmanship,” said Kyle Anderson, a Democratic spokesman for the House Administration Committee. 

Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) said he had been flooded with calls and emails from Americans urging him not to compromise with the president and to support House Republicans’ “cut, cap and balance” plan. 

The websites for Boehner, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) all reportedly showed a “server is too busy” message for some time after Obama’s speech. 

—This story was posted at 10:42 a.m. and last updated at 7:57 p.m.