The disputed bill is an attempt to curb lawsuits against companies arising from the Year 2000 technology problem by allowing defendants the opportunity to correct the situation before facing a lawsuit, setting punitive damage caps for all suits, and 90-day grace periods for businesses to fix their Y2K problems.
Just yesterday, Senators announced that a bipartisan agreement had been reached by a group of key senators on the controversial bill.
But Republicans now say the Democrats want to tack on additional "amendments that aren't germane to the bill," said Pia Pialorsi, a spokesperson from Senator John McCain's office. McCain is the chief sponsor of the bill.
Senate Democrats argue that they have every right, based on Senate floor procedure, to amend the bill.
"We will not be gagged when it comes to our ability to offer amendments," Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said, according to a Reuters report.
However, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said he wants to go forward with what Senators had agreed on, with no more amendments.
The decision to postpone the debate until next week comes after a week of heated debate that also included the White House, which officially criticized the bill yesterday and threatened a Clinton veto if the bill was approved without any protections for consumers, and too much leeway for corporate board members.
Later that same day, under a compromise with Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Dianne Feinstein of California, and other lawmakers, McCain agreed to amendments boosting consumer protection and eliminating most caps on punitive damages. McCain also agreed to drop a provision that would have protected individual corporate officers and directors.
Senate Democrats want several other amendments to be considered, Including one to increase the minimum wage, Reuters reported.
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 or may not be able to function at all, causing widespread disruptions in services in the transportation, financial, utility, and public safety sectors, observers warn.
Backed by politically powerful computer makers and software companies, banks, and manufacturers, McCain and other Republicans said the bill was needed to avert a deluge of Y2K-related lawsuits. According to some estimates, litigation costs alone could add up to $1 trillion.