WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans took to the phone lines and the Internet on Friday after President Barack Obama urged them again to call lawmakers and weigh in on a war over raising the U.S. debt limit that has sharply divided Congress.
Obama was making his second televised appeal in a week, asking Americans to press lawmakers to make a deal. The Treasury says Congress has four days left to raise the U.S. debt limit and avoid an unprecedented debt default.
“Now, on Monday night, I asked the American people to make their voice heard in this debate, and the response was overwhelming,” Obama said, referring to the massive response by telephone and email after he asked Americans to let lawmakers know if they wanted to see a compromise on Capitol Hill.
“So please, to all the American people, keep it up,” he said, appearing on many TV networks in midmorning. “If you want to see a bipartisan compromise -- a bill that can pass both houses of Congress and that I can sign -- let your members of Congress know. Make a phone call. Send an email. Tweet. Keep the pressure on Washington, and we can get past this.”
Shortly after his speech, telephone circuits in the Capitol were overwhelmed by a high volume of external calls, resulting in busy signals or difficulty getting through jammed phone lines.
An hour after Obama’s speech, the House Call Center sent out a system alert warning that telephone circuits were near capacity, resulting in outside callers getting busy signals, instead of having calls bounce to a free line.
By midday, Dan Weiser, communications director for the chief administrative officer in the House, said there was about a 10 percent increase in calls over normal numbers.
Several calls to the office of House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress who is trying to get a short-term debt limit increase through but is receiving resistance from his own party, could not get through.
At first the only response was a busy signal, but in successive attempts the phone was answered by an automated message and patriotic music played after callers were told to wait to be answered in the order the call was received.
But a spokesman for Boehner’s office said the amount of phone and email traffic had been holding pretty steady over the past week or so with no real increase after Obama’s speech.
Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid’s office received several thousand calls on Friday supporting a bipartisan long-term compromise, his spokesman Zac Petkanas said.
Obama also used 21st century communications, sending messages to his 9.4 million Twitter followers asking them to contact their lawmakers.
“The time for putting party first is over. If you want to see a bipartisan #compromise, let Congress know. Call. Email. Tweet.-BO,” said one Tweet, using his initials to show that it was a personal appeal from the president, not his staff.
But then his staff kept Obama’s Twitter feed busy, posting Twitter handles of Republican representatives and senators from each state so people could personalize their appeal.
The “compromise” hashtag, which helps categorize Tweets into themes -- was flooded with messages from people using the 140-character Twitter limit to make their wishes heard.
One example came from the Twitter account of John McMullen, who describes himself as a designer from California. The Tweet, addressed to Colorado Republican representatives Cory Gardner, Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton, read.
“@RepTipton @repcorygardner @RepMikeCoffman Please stop the madness. Support a bipartisan #compromise to deficit reduction. Enough.”
Editing by Philip Barbara