WASHINGTON – The House voted Wednesday to approve a national "do-not-call" list intended to help consumers block unwanted telemarketing calls. A key senator said the program's future remains in doubt.
The House voted 418-7 to allow the Federal Trade Commission to collect fees from telemarketers to fund the registry, which will cost about $16 million in its first year.
"Most people have experienced it -- the annoying ring of the phone just as dinner goes to the table," said Rep. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and sponsor of the bill. Tauzin, R-La., said the bill "will allow hundreds of thousands of American citizens to enjoy the peace and quiet of their own home."
Money for the program still needs approval in a House-Senate compromise $397 billion spending package for this year. The registry's future is uncertain because of a last-minute dispute over whether the spending bill is the last legislative hurdle or if the Senate must separately approve the measure.
Requiring additional Senate approval could lead to delays that would jeopardize funds for the list this year, said Andy Davis, spokesman for Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C. Hollings is concerned the Senate's Republican leadership might not bring the bill to a vote or the measure could be placed on hold, Davis said.
Hollings helped develop a House-Senate agreement in the spending plan that would approve money for the list without the need for an additional OK or other legislation. Davis said it was uncertain that agreement would stand.
Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said requiring the Senate to consider the measure "is not an 11th hour attempt to kill the bill. We are committed to getting this program up and running this year."
In introducing the legislation, Tauzin said, "If anyone holds this legislation up, we're prepared to give out their home phone numbers."
The do-not-call bill authorizes the FTC to collect fees from telemarketers beginning this year and through 2007.
The bill has been the focus of intense lobbying by the telemarketing industry and consumer groups.
Telemarketers say the registry will devastate their business, endangering millions of jobs and sending ripples through the economy. The Direct Marketing Association, an industry group, filed a lawsuit against the FTC last month on grounds the registry unlawfully restricts free speech.
Consumer groups and many lawmakers say the registry has overwhelming support from the public who are fed up with unwanted telemarketing calls.
The Bush administration, in a statement before the vote, supported the bill and the creation of a registry.
If Congress approves funds for this year, the do-not-call list could begin operation by summer.
Consumers could enroll in the free service via the Internet or a toll-free number. Telemarketers would have to check the list every three months to find out who does not want to be called. Those who call listed people could be fined up to $11,000 for each violation.
Charities, surveys and calls on behalf of politicians would be exempt.
The FTC has limited authority to police telemarketing calls from certain industries, including airlines, banks and telephone companies. The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees calls made by those industries, has been working with the FTC and is considering adding its clout to the program.
Separately, the House approved a bill that allows the FTC to increase to $22,000 the civil penalty it can impose up on people or organizations making fraudulent requests for charitable contributions or other deceptive claims during national emergencies. The legislation was prompted by fraud in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.