Limbaugh prompts healthcare calls, ties up House phone lines

House phone lines were nearing capacity on Tuesday as conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh encouraged fans to call in their objections on healthcare legislation.

The House e-mail system was also deluged in what the House’s technology office called “a very significant spike” in traffic.


The office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) sent out a system-wide advisory to member offices at 2 p.m. Tuesday, warning them of the dramatic increase in traffic.

“Our phone system is nearing capacity,” said Jeff Ventura, spokesman for the CAO. “It got critical enough whereby we notified all systems’ administrators throughout the House that the phone systems are overloading.”

At the top of Limbaugh’s website are 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.”

While Ventura said the CAO didn’t have specific numbers of how many calls the House was receiving, he did say that it would have to be “an extraordinary volume” in order for it to clog the system.

Ventura 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.

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

“Unlike computers, which can be scaled to accommodate something like this in real time, phone lines are hard-wired, so you have your capacity and once the capacity is full, you’re going to get the good old-fashioned busy signal,” he said. “And that’s what’s happening.”

A similar deluge of communications 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 constituents 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.

This article was first posted at 3:08 p.m.