Finding the Political Will to Fight Spam

Congress weighs the pros and cons of two bills that would help curb spam.

The nations overwhelming response this month to the federal Do Not Call lists promise of telemarketing relief has given Congress added impetus to finally act on another unasked-for nuisance: spam.

Spam is not a partisan issue, but it is nevertheless embroiled in politics. In past years, turf battles between the House judiciary and commerce committees ruined chances for a bill to come to a vote on the floor. In addition, disagreements within the committees threaten to slow the momentum for passing a measure this year.

At present, two bills are competing—one authored by Rep. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and the other authored by Reps. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., and Gene Green, D-Texas. The Burr bill has the support of both committee chairmen, but the majority of the commerce committee members support the Wilson/Green bill.

"This is a watershed moment for Congress," Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, said Wednesday. "We may finally be in a position to respond to our constituents plea for help."

Some issues in the spam debate, such as whether to ban unsolicited commercial e-mail unless a consumer affirmatively "opts in" to receive it, have been settled for now. Few lawmakers are willing to support an opt-in requirement as it is highly unpopular throughout industry. Both the Burr and the Wilson/Green bills contain the less controversial "opt-out" requirement.