Dems to push bill repealing robocall provision of budget deal


A few Senate Democrats plan to push a bill next week to repeal a portion of the budget agreement that would allow the government to make robocalls to cellphones in order to collect outstanding debt. 

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who authored the telephone consumer protection laws in the 1990s, plans to introduce the legislation Tuesday. A number of Democrats called out the provision this week after expressing surprise that it made its way into the bipartisan budget framework. 

{mosads}”This deal comes with a price: More unwanted calls and texts to Americans,” Markey said on the floor Thursday afternoon, after applauding the broader deal. 

The small provision was not enough to prevent Democratic critics from voting to advance the bill. 

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who will also co-sponsor the bill, has called the provision a “stupid idea” but said it doesn’t warrant “jettisoning” the broader compromise. Similarly, Markey touted the broader agreement to extend the debt limit and relieve budget caps.

Markey’s office said “a number” of other senators are also expected to sign onto the the bill. 

The robocall provision would exempt 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.” Nearly all automated or prerecorded calls to cellphones are currently barred. 

The provision gives the Federal Communications Commission nine months to develop rules that would put restrictions on the duration and amount of calls that government collectors can make. 

The repeal bill is unlikely to see movement. Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said he didn’t have any “heartburn” over its inclusion, even though he said senators would have to track how the FCC’s rules are written. 

The Obama administration has included a similar ask in budget requests in years past, and Thune said it was the Office of Management and Budget who request the provision be added. 

An administration official said the provision “could result in millions of defaulted debt being collected,” and pointed to safeguards the FCC could put in place to “protect consumers from being harassed and contacted unreasonably.”

“In an age where more and more Americans rely on cell phones, often exclusively, it is important to be able to alert those who owe money to the government if they are in danger of default, which can harm their ability to secure credit long term,” the administration said in a statement. 

While the OMB estimated it could bring in $120 million over 10 years. Critics point to the Congressional Budget Office numbers, which found any revenue would be negligible.  

— updated 3:20 p.m.

Tags Claire McCaskill Ed Markey robocalls Telephone Consumer Protection Act

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