Can you hear me now? Congressional offices swamped with debt-limit calls - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Can you hear me now? Congressional offices swamped with debt-limit calls

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Posted: Saturday, July 30, 2011 11:00 pm

WASHINGTON – Arizona congressional offices have been flooded this week by phone calls and emails on the debt-limit impasse, after President Barack Obama urged voters to call their representatives on the issue.

“We haven’t received this many phone calls and emails since Congress debated Obamacare,” said Genevieve Rozansky, a spokeswoman for Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, in an email Thursday.

House and Senate officials could not give specific numbers Friday, but members of the state’s congressional delegation, Republican and Democrat, reported a sharp uptick in calls and emails since Obama’s speech Monday.

That’s when the president told people to “let your member of Congress know” how they felt about the reducing the deficit.

“If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message,” he said.

On Friday, Obama kept the pressure up, challenging voters to, “Make a phone call. Send an email. Tweet.” His office followed up by posting “the Twitter handles of GOP lawmakers in each state” throughout the day.

Not everyone was thrilled by the tactic. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Peoria, tweeted later in the day that while “@BarackObama’s busy spamming folks on Twitter,” Franks was linking followers to a debt plan.

Officially, congressional staffers welcomed the influx of comments — which they claimed were largely positive and uniformly in line with the positions of their representatives.

“The positive-to-negative calls have been nearly 40-to-1,” said Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson. “We’ve been getting a ton of really great calls.”

That theme was repeated by aides to Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff.

“The majority of callers have been in favor of the (House Speaker John) Boehner plan to compromise and therefore, the congressman has decided to support this plan,” Hannah Loy, a Gosar spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “The congressman loves hearing the thoughts and concerns of his constituents.”

The increase even reached Arizona district offices. Aides to Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, said they had received “maybe 50 calls,” most of which they said were thank you’s for the congressman’s efforts to protect Social Security.

But while the aides did not say so, at least one market research professional said congressional staffers may be experiencing more strain than usual because of the surge in constituent contact.

Sara Radicati, CEO of Radicati Group Inc., said she thinks the stress load is probably pretty high, making emails difficult to respond to.

“I don’t think these poor staffers have had a chance to categorize these emails,” Radicati said. “It becomes a struggle to read them, a struggle to answer them.

“Clearly these emails contain different opinions, but it’s not a simple yes/no,” she said. Obama “reached out directly to the American people to increase pressure,” Radicati said.

But that’s just fine to some Arizona aides.

“We always like it when our phones blow up,” said Richard Cullen, a spokesman for Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Phoenix.

Maggie Pingolt is a reporter for Cronkite News Service.

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