Capitol Switchboard Inundated With Calls

Posted March 18, 2010 at 2:19pm

Updated: 4:06 p.m.

For the third day in a row, the Capitol switchboard is overloaded with calls from constituents trying to reach Members to make their voices heard on health care reform.

House administrators estimated Wednesday that the switchboard was being bombarded with about 40,000 calls per hour and that another 40,000 callers per hour were getting busy signals.

“It’s actually been worse today,” Jeff Ventura, spokesman for the Chief Administrator’s Office, said Thursday. He said the number is up to 50,000 calls per hour.

The barrage started after radio host Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday afternoon gave his listening audience the Capitol switchboard phone number and encouraged them to call it. At the end of the show, Rush bragged that the switchboard had shut down.

Ventura told Roll Call on Wednesday that the call volume is roughly 10 times what the switchboard usually receives.

“This doesn’t surprise me. It’s going to be that way all week, until they vote [on health care reform]. No doubt about it,” Ventura said Wednesday. “For everyone who doesn’t get through, they’ll just say to themselves, ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.'”

The telecommunications onslaught comes as the House prepares for a controversial vote on a health care reform bill as early as this Sunday.

“As long as the pundits, the Internet, the blogosphere keeps giving out the main number to the House and saying, ‘Call the House,’ they’re going to call,” Ventura said.

But he added that even if the House upgraded that capacity of the switchboard, this huge number of callers would still cause problems.

“Even if there was the technology to put all these people on hold, they would sit on hold for a very long time,” he said. “It’s not like House offices have a staff of 20 people manning the phones.”