REP. Duncan Hunter (R) returned to his San Diego district last week and placed his 407 bounced checks from the House bank on a card table in front of the East County Courthouse in El Cajon.
But as he sat, determined to face the music from gathering crowds, he found that the people gathered were more interested in the cost of health care, the economy, unemployment, and free trade.
One woman complained about Social Security. Another about federal management of public lands. People asked about term limits, job creation, and the national debt, but relatively few mentioned the checks, the highest number of overdrafts for anyone in the California delegation.
"I think people here understand this setup was a congressional perk, a free overdraft protection," says Terry Caneel from nearby La Jolla. "They are more concerned about a $400 billion dollar national debt than a $400 rubber check."
Interviews with citizens from several areas of the state show a similar knowledge of the bank procedure but less approval.
"Its effect is small in the scheme of things," said Wim Wendel, a trucker from Oakland, reflecting the most often-heard sentiment. "But it reflects a larger issue - an abuse of privileges most of us don't have. It's reprehensible."
"People were upset about the checks, no doubt," said Hunter's press secretary Scott Carpenter, summing up similar public gatherings in two other locations. To regain the public trust, Hunter is halving his take-home salary until unemployment in his district drops from 8.9 percent to 6.9 percent.
"But once he cleared the air, people wanted to move on to other things," said Mr. Carpenter.