Image: A demonstrator holds placards to protest U.S. debt in front of the Capitol in Washington.
Kevin Lamarque  /  REUTERS
A demonstrator holds placards to protest U.S. debt in front of the Capitol in Washington July 18, 2011.
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updated 7/28/2011 2:38:58 PM ET 2011-07-28T18:38:58

Bob Krogman, an Air Force veteran who survived three helicopter crashes over North Vietnam, leaves little doubt about what he thinks of politicians when asked about the debt ceiling debate in Washington.

"(Politicians) care about themselves, and that's the way it's always been since I was in the military," said Krogman, 60, hobbling on crutches outside the St. Louis VA Medical Center, where he went for an exam on his troubled lungs.

He fights back tears. "I'm furious. I hate them."

As the intense debate continues among House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House over whether to raise the debt ceiling and under what conditions, Americans have grown anxious. And after President Barack Obama urged people to contact their representatives and senators, they did — by the thousands — through phone calls, emails and picket lines.

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Story: Obama: Any debt solution must be bipartisan

The Associated Press interviewed people across the country Wednesday and found that, whatever their political leanings, frustration about the debt debate itself was the most commonly held view. Voters do not know how the debt showdown got to this point, at the brink, just days away from the United States being unable to pay all its bills.

In Washington, members of both parties, across the ideological spectrum, have reported a huge uptick in voter contact in recent days. The office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for example, reported double the call volume. GOP House members have had their websites crash, and the House's technology center warned offices earlier this week that telephone lines serving House office numbers were nearing capacity.

Members and aides say virtually every side has chimed in — those who don't want the debt ceiling raised at all, those who favor sharp budget cuts, those who want to raise taxes on the rich and points in between. And many told the AP they just want a deal struck, even if it means compromise.

First Read: Democrats in retreat?

That's what pushed Denise Cox, a western Pennsylvania nursing home worker, to picket the district office of Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., earlier this week. Altmire, a conservative Democrat, hasn't yet backed any of the competing debt limit plans.

Cox thinks Republicans and Democrats alike should stop catering to corporate interests, drop the "us vs. them mentality," and "worry more about what's best for the American people."

She said she worries about the impact a federal default would have on residents of the county-run nursing home in Beaver, Pa., most of whom are Medicaid recipients, as well as on unionized workers at the facility. Yet she also worries that any debt deal that emerges will have a disproportionate impact on the working and middle classes.

"On both sides of the aisle, they all claim to be so smart. So how did we get to this point? It didn't happen overnight. All of these supposedly intelligent people brought us to this point, and now they are scrambling to see who they can take money from," said Cox, 47, of Ohioville, Pa. But "it shouldn't be up to us to solve the problems and the mistakes that were made."

In Louisiana, Al Sunseri says he's called both his New Orleans-area congressmen, one a Democrat, one a Republican, urging them to get a deal done — but he is pushing for a more conservative approach.

Video: White Houser remains optimistic on debt plan (on this page)

"I've told them to pay the bills and get a balanced budget amendment because they can't control themselves anymore," said Sunseri, co-owner of P&J Oyster Co., on the edge of New Orleans' French Quarter. Last year's oil spill depleted the availability of oysters from the company's traditional sources, leading to more than a dozen layoffs and a shoestring operation run by him and his brother Sal.

A default would be bad for business, Sunseri said, but he also wants the government to stop spending more than it takes in, even if that means drastic cutbacks in government.

"I did not like laying off people," he said. "It came down to a matter of dollars and cents."

In Ohio, Mike Wilson wants more cuts than are being talked about. The leader of one of the Buckeye State's first tea party groups, Wilson said he's pressured Ohio's delegation to take a harder line on cuts.

"Our folks are scared that we're going to get sold out by the Republican leadership," Wilson said. "That is one of the reasons why you have a tea party, the perception that the leadership is willing to compromise too quickly."

Video: Will the House vote lead to an agreement? (on this page)

In Washington, politicians say they are listening, that they get regular readouts on the flow of constituent calls and hear voters' unrest. But outside of Washington there is still a belief that the politicians just don't get it.

At Post Office Square, a grassy haven surrounded by banks and investment firms in Boston's financial district, Robert Lydon said he was tired of the political gamesmanship and wanted Washington to get a deal. He blamed both parties.

"They're fiddling while Rome is burning," Lydon, a pipefitter from Cohasset, Mass, said during a midday break. "They're playing to their egos and not thinking about the regular person on the street like me."

Woonsocket, R.I., resident Miranda Ledouceur, 28, said she blames President Barack Obama for the standoff. But the Republicans in Congress aren't much better, she said. She worries about the effect a default would have on government assistance programs like food stamps, Medicaid and disability benefits.

"If they don't fix this there will be a lot of people on the street," she said. "Things are bad enough already."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Downgrading the country’s credit

  1. Closed captioning of: Downgrading the country’s credit

    >>> cnbc's chief washington correspondent and joins us now. in earlier conversations, i was talking to mike crapo , then to chris van hollen . crapo, as you know, a member of the gang of six, was talking about some deal down the road in the next 48 hours , let's say, that could combine the cuts in boehner and harry reid once boehner 's bill goes down in the senate on that procedural vote tonight, assuming it passes the house. which would have really hard triggers, hard enforcement down the road, and that would get them past this immediate deadline. is that what you're hearing also from the white house , this would be acceptable to the white house ?

    >> well, what i think is the obvious compromise between the two is a longer term which is what the president's insisting on, take it through 2012 , debt limit increase through 2013 , and beef up the cuts in the reid plan. reid has more up-front cuts but the second stage of his plan doesn't require them. i think what is likely to happen is just as you suggested, boehner 's plan passes the house, fails in the senate, then we've got to figure out a way forward . republicans are saying well, we can jam the democrats, force them to, because the reid plan -- boehner plan will be the only thing that's passed either house. i don't think democrats will accept that and i think they know from the polling that we've seen and also from just the reality of the situation, that the public believes that the president has tried to compromise and republicans haven't. i think that's where the president's leverage would come into play. but there is a way out that's not too difficult to envision.

    >> in addition to that, what van hollen was acknowledging if we're not talking about just a short-term deal but if we're talking about papering things over for a couple of days, that there is an agreement in principle that they're working on the language, that the president would then perhaps relent and sign just some sort of quick extension, 24, 48 hours , whatever it is, just to get them over the next couple of days and calm the markets.

    >> yes. i think he would do that or even longer than 48 hours . there is some talk on the republican side if they are headed toward a solution but haven't quite gotten there of taking the military construction appropriations bill , which has already passed both houses, it's in conference, ready to go, you could put a temporary extension, maybe 30 days if it looks like they are getting a solution. but i think what the white house is saying is they're not going to kick the can to some long midrange period down the road. if it just takes a couple days, as jay carney said at the briefing this morning, we won't let process stand in the way. but there's a difference between a few days or even a couple weeks and a six-month thing that puts it squarely in the middle of 2012 .

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