The House voted 418-7 on Wednesday 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.
"This comes as welcome relief from telemarketers who have interrupted us during dinnertime far too many times," said Rep. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and sponsor of the bill. Tauzin, R-La., said "all Americans will have a choice to opt-out of unwanted telemarketing calls and enjoy a little privacy at home for a change."
The program will not need separate Senate approval under an agreement reached late Wednesday.
Lawmakers agreed to retain a deal in a House-Senate compromise spending package for this year that would approve money for the do-not-call list without the need for additional legislation, said Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C.
"We have ensured that this sensible, consumer protection registry will become a reality this year," Hollings said. He helped develop the agreement that allows the FTC to begin building the do-not-call program when the $397 billion spending bill becomes law.
If Congress approves funds for this year, the do-not-call list could begin operation by summer.
The registry's future began to appear uncertain late Monday when Republican leaders sought to change language in the spending bill to require separate Senate approval, Hollings said. The extra step could have led to delays jeopardizing funds for the registry this year, he said.
Hollings and several consumer groups objected to the changes.
Nick Smith, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said there "is no doubt that Sen. Frist supports the do-not-call list and hopes that we can complete action by the end of the week."
The Bush administration, in a statement before the House vote, supported the bill and the creation of a registry.
The do-not-call bill, which authorizes the FTC to collect fees from telemarketers beginning this year and through 2007, 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.
In introducing the legislation, Tauzin said, "If anyone holds this legislation up, we're prepared to give out their home phone numbers."
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.
By David Ho