Senate plan for permanent daylight saving time faces doubts in the House

Pallone, who held a hearing last week on daylight saving time, said he shares the Senate’s goal to end the “spring forward” and “fall back” clock changes linked to more strokes, heart attacks and car accidents. But he wants to collect more information, asking for a long-delayed federal analysis on how time changes might affect productivity, traffic and energy costs, among other issues.

“There isn’t a consensus, in my opinion in the House, or even generally at this point, about whether we should have standard versus daylight saving as the permanent time,” Pallone said. “Immediately after the Senate passed the bill, I had members come up to me on the floor and say, ‘Oh, don’t do that. I want the standard time,’” he added, declining to identify the lawmakers.

The White House also has not communicated its position on permanent daylight saving time, congressional aides said. While President Biden, as a freshman senator, voted for that in December 1973 — the last time that Congress attempted to institute the policy nationwide — he also witnessed the near-immediate collapse of support amid widespread reports that darker winter mornings were contributing to more car accidents and worsened moods. Members of Congress introduced nearly 100 pieces of legislation to change or do away with the law before it was finally repealed in October 1974.

The White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D) office declined to answer questions about daylight saving time policy on Friday, referring reporters back to prior statements that the Senate measure was being reviewed.

The Senate plan boasts bipartisan support, led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the health panel chair and No. 3 Democrat, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The two steered the bill that passed the chamber on Tuesday through a procedure known as unanimous consent, which eliminates the need for debate or an actual vote count if no senator objects to a measure.

Backers of permanent daylight saving time argue that adding an hour of daylight later in the day would increase commerce and lead to mental health gains, as people go out to shop, eat and spend time outdoors. Murray and Rubio also point to states like Washington and Florida that have sought to adopt permanent daylight saving time but are waiting on federal approval to do so. Their aides said they are working to drum up support for the change among their House counterparts — pushing for a vote as soon as possible, while there is momentum around the idea.

“Springing forward and falling back year after year only creates unnecessary confusion while harming Americans’ health and our economy,” Murray wrote Pelosi in a letter sent Friday that her office shared with The Washington Post. “I hope, once again, for your immediate consideration of this common-sense legislation.”

Lawmakers seeking to change national time policies are working against the clock, said Thomas Gray, a University of Texas at Dallas political science professor who has studied more than a century of congressional legislation on daylight saving time.

The issue “has these unusual dynamics, where there’s really only two weeks of the year where people care about it” — the week in the spring when the clocks spring forward an hour, and the week in the fall when the clocks fall back, Gray said. “It usually takes more than a week to do something in Congress. And it’s hard to fit that time-period when people actually care into the process of passing a bill.”

Tuesday’s successful Senate vote came two days — and several uncomfortable nights of sleep — after Sunday morning’s clock change. But the next clock change is set for Nov. 6 — which would be in the middle of a House recess, and two days before lawmakers stand for election.

The schedule is “a concern for anyone who is in favor of going to permanent daylight saving time,” said Jeffery A. Jenkins, a University of Southern California public-policy professor who has studied the politics of daylight saving time with Gray. “The fact that the House is not ready to move, the Democratic leadership is not ready to move and there are some people out there who probably would not like to go to permanent daylight saving time is a problem. And they have now the opportunity to get together, coordinate and potentially act in a collective way downstream.”

That counter-lobby has already sprung into action, with advocates warning this week that shifting the clock later would lead to winter sunrises after 9 am in cities like Indianapolis and Detroit, forcing schoolchildren and many workers to commute in the dark. Save Standard Time, a nonprofit that has called for permanently adopting standard time, has sent dozens of messages encouraging supporters to contact lawmakers to register their disapproval of the Senate bill.

The office of Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) was deluged with a high volume of calls and letters that reflected a “near-even split in support/opposition on the Senate bill,” spokesperson Aaron Fritschner wrote on Twitter.

Health experts have also renewed their concerns that shifting to permanent daylight saving time would disrupt circadian rhythms by forcing people onto an unnatural sleep schedule.

“Today’s quick action by the Senate allowed for neither a robust discussion, nor a debate,” the American Academy of Sleep Medicine said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote. “We believe that permanent standard time is the best option for health.”

Some senators have said they were surprised by Tuesday’s vote and wished they had realized it was happening. But the bill’s chief backers had repeatedly called for the policy, including in speeches on the Senate floor last year, and Murray and Rubio’s staffers said they spent weeks targeting the March 12 clock change as an ideal moment to put the motion forward, working with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to find time on the chamber’s calendar.

The US Senate on March 15 passed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent all year. (Washington Post)

Every Senate office last week was also informed of the pending motion after the legislation was “hotlined,” a process by which lawmakers notify their colleagues about unanimous consent requests, Rubio’s spokesperson Dan Holler said. Since the vote, neither Rubio nor Murray’s offices have received complaints from other senators, their aides said.

But House leaders also felt surprised by the outcome and are determined to take their time reviewing the bill, said a senior House aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss pending legislation.

“What’s the old George Washington line? Now the House, as the more deliberative body, will serve as a tea saucer to cool the intemperate passions of the Senate,” the aide wrote in a text message, inverting the oft-quoted saying attributed to the nation’s first president.

The White House is also reviewing the legislation, and two aides told The Post that the Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council are studying the implications. So far, the administration has declined to push for change.

“We are obviously coordinated and work closely with Congress on all legislation they consider, but I don’t have a specific position from the administration at this point of time,” spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday.

Congress first instituted daylight saving time in 1919 and has subsequently held multiple votes to lengthen or shorten it. Those efforts climaxed in 1973, when lawmakers voted for a two-year national trial of permanent saving daylight time, spurred on by President Richard M. Nixon, who argued that it would save energy in the midst of an energy crisis triggered by the oil boycott of the United States by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC.

But amid reports that the dark mornings were leading to traffic accidents, and with little evidence the plan substantially cut energy costs, political figures began calling for the law’s repeal within days of its passage.

By March 1974, a Senate measure to appeal the change narrowly failed in a 48-43 vote; Biden sat out the vote. (The White House did not respond to a question about why Biden did not vote.)

Momentum for repeat built over the spring, as the energy crisis drew to a close, and continued through the summer.

“We have experimented with daylight saving time through one dark winter — and one winter is enough,” said former Senator Dick Clark, an Iowa Democrat, calling for repeal on Aug. 15, 1974. “I hope the Senate will take this opportunity to settle the question, not only for this winter, but for those to come.”

The following week, the House voted 383-16 to appeal permanent daylight saving time, which the Senate agreed to in a voice vote in September 1974. President Gerald Ford swiftly signed the bill.

Pallone said that the quick collapse of the 1970s-era plan shows the hazards of rushing to adopt permanent daylight saving time.

″What that points out to you and to me is that you’re not going to make everybody happy, right?” he said in an interview. “That’s why I say, we need to spend some time trying to figure out, is there a consensus?”

As the debate rages, Pallone said some lawmakers have floated an idea in the spirit of Washington compromise.

“I’ve actually had some people tell me, ‘why don’t you just split the difference? … Make it half an hour,’” he said.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.