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Health Care Onslaught Jams House Web and Phone System

Updated: 5:25 p.m.

House Web sites and phone systems were jammed to the point of failure this afternoon from masses of constituent e-mails and phone calls related to the impending health care reform bill, according to House offices and administrators.

The calls apparently started after conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh gave out the main Capitol switchboard number on the air.

An employee who answers phones at the House Office of Telecommunications, which maintains the chamber’s phone systems, said the switchboard has been inundated “in every way.”

“The system is being overwhelmed by calls,” said the employee, who did not want to be identified because she was not authorized to speak with the media. “There are a lot of calls coming in for health care.”

Roll Call obtained an internal e-mail sent by the House Chief Administrator’s Office to all system administrators notifying them of the difficulty and telling them to expect problems.

“Due to the high volume of external calls, House telephone circuits are near capacity resulting in outside callers occasionally getting busy signals,” the e-mail states.

CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura said every House Member’s office is experiencing the problems.

“When you’re talking about land lines, they have a limited number of lines going into their office. It’s pretty simple,” he said. “Once that capacity is reached, the callers are going to get a busy signal.”

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) took to Twitter to tell callers to be patient and persistent.

“Phones and emails are going nuts on health care. If you get a busy tone or an error page at please keep trying,” he wrote.

“We have a couple of complaints from folks in Montana who are trying to get through and they get a busy tone,” Rehberg spokesman Jed Link said. “And some people said that when they click on the Web page, it doesn’t load.”

Indeed, clicking on the “E-mail Denny” link on the Congressman’s Congressional Web site yielded the digital version of a busy signal — a blank white screen with bold black text reading, “The server encountered an internal error and was unable to complete your request. Application server is busy. Either there are too many concurrent requests or the server still is starting up.”

The same error message popped up on the Web sites of other Members, including Reps. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.). Rehberg and those three are a few of the 75 Members whose e-mail service is maintained by iConstituent, a Los Angeles-based company that provides e-communication services for elected officials.

Ventura said Members can choose to have their e-mail service maintained internally through the CAO or can opt for a private company. Ventura declined to name the company outright but confirmed that a third-party vendor is to blame for the breakdown.

“Right now, the sites that the House manages are not impacted,” he said. “It’s a third-party vendor that hosts 75 sites and all the sites that they host are experiencing a volume issue with regard to their Web traffic, specifically having to do with the e-mail function of their Web sites.”

A representative from iConstituent was not immediately available for comment.

Ventura said the same problems happened around the time of President Barack Obama’s bailout of ailing banks last year.

Elizabeth Eckroad, a spokeswoman for the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Office, which maintains the Senate phone system, said they have not had any phone problems.

“We’re not seeing any technical issues with the phones on the Senate side,” she said. “We are not seeing an unusual number of calls through the switchboard either.”

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