Senators Say They Will Try To Reverse Robocall Exemption For Federal Debt Collectors

Right now, the U.S. Senate is going through process of discussing the bipartisan budget proposal intended to prevent another federal shutdown. It’s a bill that, by most accounts, is destined to pass without removal of a provision that gives the federal government — and only the federal government — the permission to place unwanted, automated robocalls for the purposes of debt collection without the recipient’s permission. But some lawmakers are pledging to do something after the budget bill has passed.

First, Sen. Ron Wyden from Oregon, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee came out swinging against the clause.

“Debt collectors should not be gifted broad permission to harass people, particularly through robocalls, running up costly charges in many cases,” said the senator on Thursday morning.

While some lawmakers appear to have conceded that the best they could do now is ask the FCC — which will have nine months to come up with the rules for these robocalls — to draft sensible, pro-consumer regulations, Wyden contends that “FCC limits on the number and duration of calls are not sufficient.”

At the same time, he acknowledges that the current budget battle seems to require approving the bill as is, then doing something about it later.

“In a healthier budget process, this kind of proposal would get weeded out,” explains Wyden. “So I’ll be working with my colleagues to reverse this action in the weeks ahead.”

We’ve asked the senator’s office to clarify what form that reversal might take, but have not yet heard back.

Then shortly after 5 p.m. today, Sen. Ed Markey from Massachusetts was more explicit about his post-budget plans to combat robocalls.

The budget compromise “comes at a price,” said Markey. “More unwanted calls and texts to Americans.”

He noted that the robocall exemption for the entire federal government “makes it easier to harass consumers on their mobile phones… That is wrong; Just plain wrong.”

In response, Markey says he intends to introduce legislation shortly after the budget bill passes that will roll back the robocall provision.

The senator hopes to have the legislation expedited, but that may not be so easy in the current pre-election atmosphere in D.C.

Our colleagues at Consumers Union have already gathered more than 40,000 e-mails from Americans who wanted to voice their concerns directly to their legislators. Click here for more information. Even though it may be too late to alter the budget bill, consumers can still let their voice be heard on Capitol Hill.

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