Congress falls asleep on the end of jet lag

WASHINGTON — The House is about to press the snooze button on the Senate’s plan to permanently change the country’s clocks.

“It could be weeks — or months” before House Democratic leaders decide whether to vote on eliminating the biannual clock changes that have governed daily life in most states for decades, the official said. Representative Frank Pallone Jr., D.-NJ, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

While the Sunshine Protection Act, which passed the Senate unanimously last Tuesday, would shift clocks nationwide an hour later to maximize daylight, some doctors have argued that passing instead, permanent standard time would be a healthier option that is better aligned with the natural rhythms of humans.

Pallone, who held a hearing last week on daylight saving time, said he shared the Senate’s goal of ending “spring ahead” and “fallback” clock changes tied to more strokes, heart attacks and car accidents. But he wants to gather more information, asking for a long-delayed federal analysis on how weather changes could affect productivity, traffic and energy costs, among other issues.

“There is no consensus, in my opinion in the House, or even in general at this point, on whether we should have standard time or daylight saving time as permanent time,” said Pallone. “Immediately after the Senate passed the bill, members came up to me on the floor and said, ‘Oh, don’t do that. I want standard time,'” he added, declining to identify the lawmakers.

In Iowa, the State House passed on March 7 House file 2331, which makes DST permanent in Iowa — with caveats. The Iowa House version says the change doesn’t take effect until federal lawmakers authorize the change. An amendment in the Iowa Senate maintains that, but also adds that it won’t take effect until neighboring states — Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin — also make the change. The entire Iowa Senate has yet to vote on the bill.

The White House has also not communicated its position on permanent DST, congressional aides said. While President Joe Biden, as a freshman senator, voted for it in December 1973 – the last time Congress attempted to institute the policy nationwide – he also witnessed the an almost immediate collapse in support amid widespread reports that darker winter mornings were contributing to more car crashes and worsened moods.

On Friday, the office of White House and House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to answer questions about DST policy.

The Senate plan has bipartisan support, led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Health Panel Chair and No. 3 Democrat, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The two spearheaded the bill which passed the house through a procedure known as unanimous consent, which eliminates the need for debate or an actual vote count if no senator objects. a measurement.

Proponents of permanent daylight saving time argue that adding an hour of daylight later in the day would boost commerce and lead to sanity gains as people go out to shop, eat and spend time outdoors. Murray and Rubio also mention states like Washington and Florida that have sought to adopt permanent DST, but are awaiting federal approval to do so.

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

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

The problem “has this unusual dynamic, where there are really only two weeks of the year that people care about” – the week in the spring when the clocks go forward one hour, and the week in the fall when the clocks are turning back, Gray mentioned. “It usually takes more than a week to get something done in Congress. And it’s hard to fit into that time period when people actually care about the process of getting a bill passed.”

The next clock change is scheduled for November 6 – two days before lawmakers are due to run for office.

This counter-lobby has already sprang into action, with supporters warning that shifting the clock later would lead to wintry sunrises after 9 a.m. in cities like Indianapolis and Detroit, forcing school children and many workers to move in the dark.

Health experts have also renewed concerns that the move to permanent daylight saving time will disrupt circadian rhythms by forcing people into an unnatural sleep schedule.

Congress first instituted DST in 1919 and then held several votes to lengthen or shorten it. These efforts culminated in 1973, when lawmakers voted for a two-year national trial of permanent daylight saving time, spurred by President Richard M. Nixon, who argued that it would save energy amid 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 dark mornings were leading to traffic accidents, and with little evidence the plan was significantly reducing energy costs, political figures began calling for the law to be repealed days after it was passed. . In March 1974, a Senate measure to repeal the change narrowly failed in a 48–43 vote; Biden did not participate in that vote. (The White House did not respond to a question about why Biden did not vote.)

“We experimented with daylight saving time during a dark winter — and one winter is enough,” said former Sen. Dick Clark, a Democrat from Iowa, calling for repeal on Aug. 15, 1974. “I hopes the Senate will take this opportunity to settle the matter, not just for this winter, but for those to come.”

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

Pallone said the rapid collapse of the 1970s plan shows the dangers of rushing to adopt permanent daylight saving time.

“What that means to you and to me is that you’re not going to make everyone happy, are you?” he said. “That’s why I say, we have to spend time trying to figure out, is there a consensus?”

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

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