WASHINGTON – Politicians have finally found an issue they all can agree on: Telemarketers calling at dinnertime are a scourge that must be repulsed.
Congress on Wednesday put the final touches on two bills to make permanent a program to protect consumers from unwanted phone calls from salesmen and other telemarketers. Its hallmark is the national “do not call” list.
“This initiative has proven to be one of the most popular laws in history,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C. Extending the program was necessary “to avoid the wrath of millions of angry constituents.”
The Do Not Call Registry, initiated in 2003, has been widely acclaimed for allowing Americans to eat their suppers in peace. Some 150 million people have listed their phones on the registry, which prohibits calls from telemarketers.
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said, “With a 10 percent approval rating it is incumbent upon us to continue to pass legislation that is indeed popular.”
The House passed by voice vote and sent to the president a bill to make permanent the authority of the Federal Trade Commission to collect fees to run the program. “My legislation keeps the program free, simple and effective for consumers,” said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., sponsor of the Senate bill.
Telemarketers pay annual fees of up to $17,050 and must search the registry every month and drop from call lists the phone numbers of consumers who have registered.
The Congressional Budget Office said the fees will bring in $107 million over the next five years. Consumers can remove their numbers from the list at any time.
The Senate also prepared to approve by a voice vote and send to the White House a bill to make the list permanent, overturning an FTC rule that people re-register their phone numbers every five years. The FTC reasoned that re-registering would update the list to account for people who move and switch their phone numbers.
Critics argued that the list is already scrubbed each month of numbers that have been disconnected and reassigned to new customers.