Sentate fails to end Y2K filibuster

Republican leaders fail to muster enough votes to end debate on a bill supported by a majority of senators, and Democrats submit more amendments.

3 min read
The Senate is now sitting on two bills that look to limit lawsuit costs arising from the Year 2000 technology problem, having failed to agree to a vote on a compromise bill.

Republican leaders today failed to muster enough votes to end debate on a bill supported by a majority of senators, and Democrats pushed an amended version of the legislation.

Y2K liability lawsuit legislation
  House bill First Senate bill Senate bill alternative
Includes a 90-day cooling off period Yes Yes Yes
Caps punitive damages at $250,000/business Yes Some No
Limits liability of corporate executives Yes No No
Protects government organizations from liability No Yes No
Passed Yes No Up for vote now
The two Senate measures join a similar House bill passed last week that would limit a potential deluge of litigation arising from the Year 2000 technology glitch, which is expected by some observers to reach $1 trillion.

Each version has been pushed by computer and software companies and a wide range of other business groups. But the White House and many Democrats oppose many of the measures, arguing they would give too much protection to big business at the expense of consumers.

By 53 to 45, the Senate failed by 7 votes to pass a motion of cloture, ending debate on proposed legislation that has been languishing for weeks in the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), aims to limit prospective Y2K lawsuits by setting some punitive damage caps, providing for a 90-day "cooling-off" period to handle disputes out of court, and protecting government agencies from Y2K litigation.

Because of the ongoing failure to pass the McCain bill, a group of Senate Democrats yesterday debuted their own plan to curb frivolous lawsuits stemming from the Year 2000 problem, putting pressure on Republicans to give big business less protection and consumers more leeway in court.

The White House has threatened to veto any Y2K legislation that includes caps, protections for chief executives and board members from litigation, and modification of state court rules, and urged McCain and his colleagues to hammer out a compromise. Working with moderate Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and others, McCain agreed to take out most punitive damage caps and protections for corporate executives from his original bill, but didn't go far enough for some Democrats.

Back to Year 2000 Index Page According to Reuters, Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) told reporters in Washington Y2K legislation would not be brought up again by the Senate "until I get a guarantee we [can] get a vote on the substance and that we'll have enough Democrats that care about this Y2K liability problem."

Should the Senate approve a Y2K litigation bill, both the House and Senate bills will go to conference, where they will be hammered into one final measure. The bill would then go to the president. Though Clinton has clearly signaled opposition, however, the White House would join in the conference process to try to ensure presidential approval for the final legislation, Senate staffers said.

The Year 2000 problem, also known as the millennium bug, stems from an old programming shortcut that used only the last two digits of the year. Many computers now must be modified, or they may mistake the year 2000 for the year 1900 and may not be able to function at all, observers warn.