Editorial - Do-not-call law awaits Bush

Here's a little election year bonus - consumer friendly legislation that doesn't cost the government anything. In fact, it makes money.

On Wednesday, President Bush got two bills from Congress in which Republicans and Democrats were able to find common ground that is far too uncommon these days. The bills cut down on the chances that if you hear your phone ring while you're in the shower and you get out to answer it, you won't be angry that the caller was trying to sell you something.

With a stroke of Bush's pen, the bills would make permanent a program that protects consumers from unwanted telemarketer calls. The "do not call" national registry may be the most popular concept to come out of Congress since the last income tax rebate. Since its debut five years ago, 150 million Americans have signed up to keep their dinners from being interrupted by telephoned sales pitches.

One of the bills authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to continue collecting the up-to-$17,500 fees it charges telemarketers annually, fees that the Congressional Budget Office says will generate $107 million in the next half-decade. The other bill makes the do-not-call list permanent instead of requiring people to reregister every five years.

Telemarketers are required to search the registry monthly and drop phone numbers that belong to those who have registered with FTC. Those who violate the law face fines of $11,000 per violation. In the past five years, officials say, the FTC has collected $25 million in fines and settlements, including $7.7 million in settlements last November with six companies accused of violating the registry.

This program truly has been successful and Congress has shown wisdom in ensuring its continuance. It protects consumers, particularly the elderly who are too often seen as profitable marks by unscrupulous businesses.

And Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, succinctly stated the case in an Associated Press report Wednesday: "With a 10 percent approval rating it is incumbent upon us to continue to pass legislation that is indeed popular."

While it's reasonable that charitable groups, survey organizations and businesses you already have a relationship with should be exempted from the law, politicians missed a golden opportunity to really pick up some applause from constituents by cutting out one particular exemption.

That's because you still run the risk of jumping out of the shower and answering the phone, only to hear your congressman's carefully recorded campaign pitch.