More time is to be allowed by the US for 27 countries (largely in the EU) to issue passports with biometric information encoded, thus avoiding the introduction of excessively cumbersome schemes for the issuance of old-fashioned visas. The new deadline is apparently to be August 2006; the deadline had already been extended from 2003 to October 2005.
Why has the US now done this? I suspect strongly that it is lobbying from various interest groups within the US, specifically the states (e.g. Florida, California) which receive large numbers of tourists from many countries in Europe, Australasia and Japan. Ultimately, money talks - and the huge deficits that the US continues to run, and the large revenues that spending by tourists generates in some parts of the country, have forced a bit of necessary realpolitik through the skulls of this US administration.