Thursday, October 02, 2008

Politicians' Phones Ringing Off the Hook

Horse-carriage driver Raymond Miller of Mackinac Island keeps himself busy between guiding tours by repeatedly dialing the White House and the Congress to complain about the $700 billion bailout plan for Wall Street.

"Nobody answers the phone," Miller complains. "I'm either put on hold and then disconnected, or told the circuits are all busy."

Michigan congressional offices and the White House say they're receiving huge numbers of phone calls and e-mails from citizens like Miller.

Miller called the White House, was put on hold, and after 30 minutes was disconnected. He dialed multiple numbers trying to reach U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, and U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee.

Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, an aide to Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, answered the telephone and a surprised Miller was finally able to explain why he doesn't want the senator to vote for the proposal.

"I would think that the White House and the Congress would like to hear from people about their concerns," Miller said. "If I make a bad investment decision, I can lose my retirement or my house. That's free enterprise. I don't see why we're bailing out Wall Street."

At times, the Capitol Hill switchboard is so clogged that callers get a recording, and lawmakers' answering machines sometimes pick up during regular business hours because all telephones in their offices are in use.

The Senate was expected to vote on its revised $700 billion rescue bill Wednesday night. The House is now expected to debate and vote on the Senate proposal on Friday.

Levin and Stabenow wouldn't say Wednesday afternoon how they planned to vote.

In the House, nine of Michigan's House members voted against it, and six voted for it.

In interviews and statements, several of the nine opponents said they are open to voting for a different bill, although the challenge for Senate and House leaders is to add carrots to attract different types of resistant lawmakers without losing the support of those who voted for the bill Monday.

On the other end of the flood of calls to the White House and Congress, aides say they can't pick up the phones quickly enough.

Edward Cardenas, press secretary to U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said a majority of callers are still against the bailout bill, but not like before Monday's huge drop in stock prices.

"This is definitely the strongest response (on an issue) we've had in some time," said Cardenas, whose boss, Miller, is one of the nine Michigan House members who voted against the bill.

Jameson Cunningham, press secretary to U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter, R-Livonia, said their office has received up to 1,000 phone calls a day.

"The calls are still a solid majority against (the bailout bill)," said Cunningham, whose boss also voted against the bill Monday.

President Bush will be among the callers to Congress, White House press secretary Tony Fratto says.

So far, no one in Michigan's delegation admits to having gotten a call from Bush.

But U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, said he received a call from Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday. It didn't work; Hoekstra voted against the bailout bill.

"The vice president said, 'Hey where are you on this bill? We need your support.' I told him I couldn't go there. I gave him three or four suggestions," said Hoekstra, who is open to voting for a re-tooled bill.

"There is an issue that is out there that Congress needs to deal with," Hoekstra added. "Whatever we do, it's going to be a big thing. I've got a lot of instinctive gut reactions against that. But I believe there are ways that this bill can be changed, modified, improved in a way that I could vote for it."

No comments: