Representatives of a key Senate Democrat expressed confidence yesterday that Congress will approve funding needed to launch the national no-call registry on schedule in the summer.
According to Sen. Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings, D-SC, the funding had been in jeopardy earlier this week after Republican leadership added two words to a section of the FY 2003 Omnibus Appropriations bill. GOP leaders removed the language late Wednesday under pressure from consumer groups, including seniors association AARP, Hollings said.
The words “if authorized” — added late Feb. 10 to the section appropriating funding to create the list — would have required Congress to pass a second and separate bill before money could be released to the Federal Trade Commission, Hollings said.
That would have required a potentially lengthy debate and opened the possibility that a senator could try to stall the bill anonymously, said Andy Davis, spokesman for Hollings, who is the ranking Democrat of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee.
“This is a very heavily lobbied bill on both sides,” Davis said. “It certainly increases the possibility that you get an anonymous hold.”
Davis said he expected the appropriations bill to pass either late last night or today. The FTC requested $16 million to fund the launch of the list.
In the House of Representatives, H.R. 395, a bill authorizing the FTC to charge fees to recoup funding for the list, passed Feb. 12. However, an FTC spokeswoman said the agency still needs funding to be approved in the appropriations bill.
H.R. 395, sponsored by Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-LA, met only with accolades Feb. 12 in the House, where members voted 418-7 to approve it. In the Senate, lawmakers agreed to let the bill pass without a vote.
A statement from President Bush read prior to the House vote indicated that the administration supports the bill. That Congress approved the bill with little debate came as a disappointment but registered little surprise, the American Teleservices Association said.
The ATA had looked to Congress for a serious examination of the issues surrounding the national no-call list, but never expected to get it. The trade association has stated that the registry and other new telemarketing rules being implemented by the FTC will lead to a decline in teleservices jobs, particularly in rural communities.
“We had been hoping that the House would look more at the proposal than just at the funding,” ATA spokesman Kevin Brosnahan said. “We were not holding our hopes very high for that.”
The ATA, along with the Direct Marketing Association, is challenging the constitutionality of the national do-not-call list in federal court. Both seek to halt the launch of the list while the legal issue is settled, a battle that could be resolved quickly or possibly take years.
For now, it appears the national no-call registry is on target for its launch before the end of the year. The FTC is reviewing finalists for the job of creating and maintaining the list and should pick a database firm shortly after funding is approved, the FTC spokeswoman said.
Applicants for the job have stated that constructing the list infrastructure should take about four months, the FTC said. A two-month registration period will follow, with the list becoming available to telemarketers in late summer and enforcement beginning in the fall.