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Worried residents hit streets over U.S. debt talks

WILLMAR -- With less than a week until the U.S. could default on its debt, some concerned constituents took to local congressional offices Tuesday afternoon.

Following President Obama's televised address Monday night about the current national debt crisis, organizations nationwide made a push to make a physical presence at district offices to voice their concerns about the attempts to cut various entitlement benefits as part of a package to help raise the nation's debt ceiling while generating revenue.

Sandy Tracy, a local member of Civic Action, a nonprofit advocacy group, said about 20,000 people across the country were expected to walk into their congressman's district offices.

Fewer than a dozen people "dropped by" U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson's office Tuesday along Fourth Street in Willmar to voice concerns.

Tracy said she wanted to let the 7th District congressman know people are watching and concerned about the direction things seem to be going.

"We wanted to let the representative know we don't want to cave into Republican pressure for any kind of debt deal that includes removing or cutting Medicare or Medicaid," Tracy said. "We also wanted him to know we want some sort of revenue program where corporations and wealthy pay their fair share."

Tracy left a note for the congressman stating, "We're counting on you," in large black letters.

Mary Bertram, a legislative staff assistant for Peterson, faxed the note to his Washington office along with a note from Nathan and Jenny Klatt of Willmar.

"We are stopping by to support the general Democratic concept on the budget solution," Nathan Klatt told Bertram.

His first rally, Klatt said the negotiations on Capitol Hill are "kind of silly," and he doesn't know if the parties will compromise by the Aug. 2 deadline.

"After what just happened in Minnesota, it's hard to say," he said, referring to the recent struggles to enact a budget. Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton could not agree on a budget in time to avert a shutdown of state government for two weeks.

Klatt considers himself an independent and said he is frustrated that Congress pushed the debt deal off for so long and hopes they come to their senses.

Meanwhile inside the congressman's office, Bertram said she had been unaware constituents were flocking to local offices and received only six phone calls as of noon Tuesday.

Although with so many calls to Capitol Hill, she suspects the Willmar office could see an influx throughout the week.

She said the Willmar office received more phone calls and walk-ins while Congress debated the health care reform legislation that was signed into law in March 2010.

Frustrated with the decisions being made, Tracy said she just hopes more people become aware of the current situation.

"The decisions are being made and backroom deals are going to affect all of us. If people aren't aware of what's going on, they will be out of the loop," Tracy said. "I hope more people get involved and really understand what it is we are dealing with -- there's an awful lot of trickery and it's easy to get confused."