Clock runs out on efforts to make daylight saving time permanent

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Early this Sunday morning, Americans will engage in the annual fall ritual of “turning back” — setting their clocks back one hour to align with standard time.

If some lawmakers were willing, it would mark the end of more than a century of tradition. But the story of congressional gridlock and a relentless lobbying campaign that some jokingly refer to as “The Big Sleep” is a familiar one.

A bill to keep moving forward in Congress has stalled for more than seven months as lawmakers argue over whether the Senate should have passed the legislation in the first place. House representatives say they have been inundated with dissenting voters and warnings from sleep experts who insist permanent standard time would be healthier instead, and congressional leaders admit they simply don’t know what to do.

“We have not yet been able to find consensus in the House on this issue,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (DN.J.) told The Washington Post in a statement. “There are very different views on whether to keep the status quo, go permanent, and if so, what time it should be.”

Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees time-change policy, also said he was wary of repeating a previous attempt by Congress to enact year-round daylight saving time nearly 50 years ago, which was quickly overturned amid widespread reports of a darker winter. mornings brought more car crashes and more somber moods.

“We don’t want to make a hasty change and then reverse it years later when public opinion turns against it — which is what happened in the early 1970s,” Pallone said.

With lawmakers hitting the snooze button, there’s little chance the legislation will move past next week’s election, congressional aides said.

The bill’s quiet demise brings to an end an extraordinary episode that briefly unsettled Congress, became fodder for late-night sitcoms and fueled water-cooler debate. The Senate’s unanimous vote in March to allow states to permanently change clocks surprised some members of the House itself — and, contrary to the traditional dynamic in Washington, it is the House of Representatives that is slowing down the Senate legislation.

Key senators who supported permanent daylight saving time say they are baffled that their efforts seem doomed and frustrated that they may have to start over in the next Congress. In recent years, at least 19 states have passed laws or passed resolutions that would allow them to observe daylight saving time year-round, according to the National Conference, but only if Congress approves legislation to stop the nation’s time from changing twice a year. State Legislatures.

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“This is not a partisan issue or a regional issue, this is a common sense issue,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who co-sponsored the Solar Protection Act that passed the Senate in March. Senate staff noted that the bipartisan bill, backed by 48 Republicans and Democrats, has stalled in the House for nearly two years in the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

“I don’t know why the House refuses to pass this bill — they rarely seem to be in session — but I’m going to keep pushing to make it a reality,” Rubio said, nodding to his congressional colleagues.

The somber mood of Rubio and his colleagues this fall is a stark contrast to their sunny celebrations when the Senate suddenly passed their bill two days after the “spring” clock change, and still angry lawmakers touted it as common-sense reform.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook in support of this bill, from moms and dads who want more daylight before bed, to seniors who want more sunlight in the evenings to enjoy the outdoors, to farmers who could use the extra daylight to work fields,” said a fundraising email sent by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) in March.

But behind the scenes, the bill’s prognosis was clouded almost immediately.

Some senators told reporters they were surprised the bill passed through a parliamentary procedure known as unanimous consent, which eliminates the need for debate or an actual vote count if no senator opposes the measure, and wished there had been more traditional hearings. and legislative markups. Sleep experts and neuroscientists urgently warned that switching from early morning sunlight could harm circadian rhythms, sleep-wake cycles and overall health. Groups such as religious Jews complained that moving the clocks later in the winter would prevent them from holding morning prayers after sunrise and getting to work and school on time.

There are also regional differences in who would benefit most from permanent daylight saving time. Lawmakers in southern states like Florida say it would maximize sunlight for their residents during the winter months, but some people living in the northern United States or on the western edge of time zones, like Indianapolis, would not see the sunrise in some areas. on winter days until 9:00

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And in the House, lawmakers and staffers working on the issue pointed to polls that show deep public opinion about how to proceed. While 64 percent of respondents to a March 2022 YouGov poll said they wanted to stop changing the clocks twice a year, only about half of those who supported changing the clocks wanted permanent daylight saving time, while about one-third supported permanent clock changes. standard time and others were unsure.

“We know that most Americans don’t want to keep turning their clocks back and forth,” Schakowsky said in a statement to The Post, adding that she has received calls arguing in favor of both sides. Persistent defenders of standard time don’t want children waiting for the school bus on dark winter mornings; Proponents of permanent daylight saving time want to help businesses enjoy more sunlight during work hours, she said.

A congressional aide who has worked on the issue put it more bluntly: “We would piss off half the country no matter what,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss internal matters. deliberations.

The White House has avoided taking a position on the legislation, and administration officials have said in interviews that the issue is complex and has implications for trade and health.

Pallone and other lawmakers have said they are waiting for the Department of Transportation, which helps regulate time zone enforcement, to review the impact of permanently changing the clocks. Although the transportation agency agreed to a study in September, the deadline for that analysis — Dec. 31, 2023 — suggests the issue may not be seriously considered in Congress until 2024.

And while lobbying efforts change around the clock alongside tens of millions of dollars spent by advocates of so-called Big Pharma or Big Tech, some congressional aides joke that the debate has awakened the “Big Sleep”: concerted opposition from sleeping doctors and According to a federal intelligence review, researchers who issued advocacy letters warning of permanent daylight saving time went to Capitol Hill to recommend permanent standard time to lawmakers instead, and greatly increased their lobbying spending.

For example, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, or AASM, which in recent years has focused on issues such as improving sleep apnea care, this year included new priorities in its federal filings: lobbying lawmakers on the Senate Sun Protection Act and “Challenges Related to Seasonal Changes. “

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AASM also nearly doubled its lobbying spending from $70,000 in the third quarter of 2021 to $130,000 in the third quarter of 2022, and added a lobbyist who specializes in health care and formerly worked for Schakowsky.

The daylight saving time debate has caught the attention of the Academy of Sleep Medicine, the official confirmed.

“When the Senate passed the Solar Protection Act last spring, we determined that support for permanent standard time must be an immediate priority,” Melissa Clark, AASM’s director of advocacy and public outreach, wrote in an email.

Clark added that AASM has met with dozens of legislators’ offices to support permanent standard time. “This is a problem that affects everyone,” she wrote.

It is a problem that resonates abroad as well. Mexican lawmakers passed legislation last month to end daylight saving time in much of the country, a measure quickly signed into law by the country’s president.

But not everyone agrees that change — any change — is needed.

Political commentator Josh Barro, who has repeatedly argued for keeping the current system, said neither permanent daylight saving time nor permanent standard time makes sense.

“I think we have the system we have for a good reason… we have a set number of daylight hours and that will vary depending on the axial tilt of the earth. And we need a way to manage that so that we wake up not too long after sunrise on most days,” Barro said. “It’s really the government that solves the coordination problem.”

Beth Ann Malow, a neurologist and sleep medicine researcher at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, emphasized that she still favors permanent standard time, which she testified at a congressional hearing earlier this year. But even Malov says the U.S. may need to compromise — move the clock back 30 minutes and then stay that way forever.

“I know that people on permanent standard time and people on permanent daylight saving time are going to be disappointed because they didn’t get what they wanted and we’re not going to be in sync with other countries,” Malow said. “But it’s a way to stop going back and forth.”

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