House Democrats seek to stop government robocalls

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A pair of House Democrats are pushing legislation that would undo a law allowing the government to robocall people’s cellphones to collect debt. 

The legislation introduced Friday by Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) — who is running in a competitive race for a Senate seat — mirrors legislation that was introduced in the Senate last year after the provision was quietly slipped into a broader budget agreement. 

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Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) is also sponsoring the bill. 

“The exemption allows private debt collectors to conduct robocalls and send texts to mobile phones for debt owed or guaranteed by the federal government,” Eshoo said, while Duckworth expressed disappointment that the robocall provision was added “behind closed doors.”

Unwanted automated and prerecorded calls and texts to cellphones are restricted with only a handful of exceptions, and the FCC recently voted to strengthen some provisions.

That is why some lawmakers were angered when last year’s budget deal exempted the government and those collecting debt on its behalf from some telephone consumer protection rules if the calls are made "solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” 

The provision appears aimed at recouping student loan debt. 

The law gave the FCC nine months to develop rules that would put restrictions on the duration and amount of calls that government collectors can make.

The Office of Management and Budget, which pushed the provision, had predicted it could bring in about $120 million over 10 years. However, a Congressional Budget Office analysis concluded the revenue would be negligible over the next 10 years. 

The bill’s introduction comes a few weeks ahead of Duckworth’s Democratic primary. If she wins, she will face off against Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkGOP lawmaker: 'Republicans were wrong’ to block Garland VA secretary comes under fire for comparing wait times to Disneyland Juan Williams: Electoral map looks grim for Trump MORE (R-Ill.) in the general election, which observers see as a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats.