Congressional phones jammed after Obama appeal to contact lawmakers

As the Aug. 2 deadline fast approaches for the U.S. government, Whit Johnson reports on the ongoing debate between Republicans and Democrats on how to reduce the nation's deficit.

Updated at 5:35 p.m. ET

President Obama on Monday night urged Americans to tell their members of Congress what they think about the current debt negotiations -- and Americans responded.

House telephone circuits have been overwhelmed thanks to a flood of phone calls from people reaching out to their representatives. In addition, multiple congressional websites experienced temporary outages last night following the primetime speech by Mr. Obama and response from House Speaker John Boehner.

(Watch Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., discuss the content of the phone calls in the above video.)

"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," Mr. Obama said last night. "If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your Member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message."

The Chief Administrative Officer of the Capitol alerted the House in an email Tuesday morning that House telephone circuits were near capacity due to a high volume of external calls. Congressional offices were advised to give their staff outside of the capitol and other key contacts an alternate number to call.

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In Boehner's office today, senior staff assistant Tommy Andrews was manning the office call center, which had 142 callers on hold at one point. The shortest wait time for that batch of callers, Andrews told CBS News, was 66 minutes. Over the past couple of weeks, Boehner's office has had an average of about 340 people on hold at a time, Andrews said.

One man told Hotsheet he spent the entire morning trying to contact Boehner through email, fax or phone. He said he was able to leave a voicemail, but the speaker's email page gave him the message, "Due to overwhelming site traffic, the contact form is not loading."

Meanwhile, multiple congressional websites crashed or slowed down last night after they were inundated with visitors. According to Committee on House Administration spokesperson Sallie Wood, the sites that were impacted are hosted by outside vendors. (Not all sites are hosted by outside vendors -- it's a matter of the member's or committee's preference -- and those sites hosted by House servers were not affected.) The House worked quickly with the impacted members to get their sites back up, and most were repaired last night, Wood said.

Some members of Congress used alternative means of communicating with their constituents while their sites were down. "Our Senate website appears to be struggling tonight, but we're listening here on Twitter," Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., tweeted Monday night.

After Mr. Obama's appeal, activists pushed their members to reach out to their representatives. And once it became clear that congressional phone lines and websites were overwhelmed, they set up alternate routes of communication.

The liberal group Americans United for Change established a website where voters could submit their thoughts and let the group fax the message to their respresentative. Americans United for Change said that as of Tuesday morning, they had sent 3,500 faxes, with little publicity of the website beyond Twitter.

Liberals groups are also mobilizing their supporters to visit members in person today. A coalition of groups -- Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and others -- are holding events today in every congressional district. They'll urge Democrats to oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid and tell Republicans to stop pushing for those cuts. The coalition of groups say that, in just 48 hours, they've recruited nearly 20,000 people to participate.

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