Limbaugh inspires a half-million phone calls against the health bill

The Chief Administrative Office (CAO) estimated that since Tuesday afternoon — when it first noted the spike in call volume — as many as 40,000 calls per hour have been routed through the House switchboard during business hours.

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A spokesman for the CAO, which handles members’ technology needs, said that just as many callers were trying to reach lawmakers through the Capitol switchboard, but they have not been getting through.

The unusual call volume, which has pushed House phone lines to near-capacity levels, began Tuesday afternoon after Limbaugh made a plea on his website for fans to call lawmakers. He posted toll-free and local phone numbers for the Capitol operator, plus the message: “Call the Capitol Switchboard,” followed by “Code Red: Click Here for List of Targeted Congressmen.”

He also make his case to listeners on the air.

“I think it is pedal-to-the-metal time, and even if you have been e-mailing and faxing and calling, I think it's time to intensify it,” he said. “You call the local offices. You call the Washington office of these people, the Democrats and so forth … The Republicans can’t stop it. Not with votes. They don't have the votes to stop it, but you can.

“I normally don't do this, but time to throw down the gauntlet here and really ratchet it up, to go along with all the other pressure that is being brought to bear elsewhere throughout the rest of the media.”

The CAO said that while e-mail traffic to lawmaker offices remained at high levels, they are functioning normally and haven’t experienced any delays.

The CAO said the surge in calls, which results in occasional busy signals for callers, is likely to persist throughout the week.

The House is preparing for a possible weekend vote on healthcare reform.

The CAO added there’s not much that can be done to alleviate the busy signals and advised callers to keep calling until they get through.

A similar deluge from voters came in 2008 when the House had to limit the number of e-mails being sent to lawmakers on the financial bailout bill in order to prevent House websites from crashing.

As a result, some got a “try back at a later time” response if they used the House website to e-mail their lawmakers about the bill that was defeated in the House.

And three years ago, then-CNN anchor Lou Dobbs and conservative talk radio hosts helped to defeat an immigration bill after they urged listeners to call Capitol operators.

The effort overloaded the switchboard, and senators ultimately voted against advancing the immigration measure despite strong bipartisan support and the backing of President George W. Bush.