The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In blink of an eye, Senate passes time-change bill with no dissent

(Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Time is the biggest enemy any senator faces, inside a legislative body that prides itself on being deliberative on everything considered.

Those nominated by the president who receive overwhelming support usually take more than two days to process before receiving a final confirmation vote. Major legislation that doesn’t have support from at least 60 senators can languish forever in a filibuster purgatory.

And then there’s legislation that would, in a small but realistic way, affect every American’s daily life: It would dictate how to set our clocks.

Late Tuesday afternoon, with no real debate, the Senate unanimously agreed to legislation that would make daylight saving time the permanent setting for U.S. clocks, ending the ritual of changing clocks in the fall and late winter.

The proposal, pushed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) since 2018, had never been considered with a hearing in the Senate, let alone had a full legislative markup of the bill.

Rubio’s Sunshine Protection Act had just 18 co-sponsors. The companion bill in the House, led by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), has 41 co-sponsors and received a hearing last week before a consumer protection subcommittee.

Congress weighs permanent daylight saving time in a debate as regular as clockwork

The Senate legislation passed so quickly that some senators had no idea that they had consented to let it get approved without a roll-call vote.

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

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), whose job is to count votes as minority whip, learned the legislation had passed from reporters.

“Whose bill is it?” Thune asked, somewhat incredulously. “It passed?”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the majority whip, also learned from the media that legislation to make the “spring forward” permanent had passed the chamber.

“Made what permanent?” he asked.

Of course, while the two Senate leaders were unaware of what happened, they basically like the idea of more sun later in the day — regardless of how it means sunrises arrive very late in the winter, approaching 9 a.m. in some northern states.

“I kinda like daylight savings time,” Durbin said.

“I’m fine with that,” Thune added, suggesting it would make life simpler. “People in South Dakota complain about that all the time.”

On Wednesday, Rubio defended the quick unanimous vote as the result of a long effort by him to bring this to fruition.

“Four years is not quick,” he said, explaining that when he checked with the aides in the Democratic and Republican cloakrooms, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) was the only objection.

Rubio sees himself at the forefront of something already moving in state capitols, with 20 states approving plans to move to a permanent clock setting and dozens more considering it.

Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction, declined to explain why he lifted his objection and allowed Rubio’s request to pass the legislation.

“I think it’s bad legislation,” Wicker said Wednesday.

The House is moving more deliberately. Last week’s hearing ended with Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asking the Transportation Department to study the affects of changing clocks, as he declared support for creating a permanent time standard but had not decided which one made the most sense.

How uniform daylight saving solved America’s clock craziness

The system of alternating clocks began more than 100 years ago and has been tweaked several times over the past few decades, leaving what Rubio believes is an outdated model.

“Well, the mornings are going to be dark,” he said, parroting a line from opponents of permanently setting clocks ahead by an hour. “But I think we’re down to 16 weeks a year when we’re not in daylight savings.”

The issue has been the subject of deep investigations and studies by sleep experts and academics, even retail and commercial stores. But supporters on Capitol Hill are still learning the issue.

“I was pretty surprised we had the power to change time itself,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said while leading last week’s hearing, reflecting on a previous vote to change the start and end date of daylight saving.

Some lawmakers talk as if they have the power to alter the sun itself.

“Let’s give Americans something to celebrate: longer days and more sunshine,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), a co-sponsor of Rubio’s bill, said in a speech March 7.

“Americans want more sunshine and less depression,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Tuesday in a speech.

In fact, the days will not be longer and the sun will shine the exact same amount of time. The difference is how to set clocks for when the sun will rise and when it will set.

During standard time, sunrises occur after 7 a.m. for almost three months of winter in Washington — something that would be after 8 a.m. if daylight saving were adopted year-round.

But health experts have testified that moving clocks around exacerbates sleep disorders, particularly for teenagers. They remain divided over which time is best for sleep health.

Sleep experts say Senate has it wrong: Standard time, not daylight saving, should be permanent

Convenience store lobbyists are pushing to adopt daylight saving as the permanent fix, under the belief that longer amounts of evening sunshine will lead to more customers out shopping.

Rubio believes that daylight saving makes the most sense because it is the predominant time setting for so much of the year.

“Do we want to keep switching back and forth? And if we’re not, which one of the two do we want? It makes more sense to stay with the one we’re already doing 36 weeks,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) mused to reporters about the effect of a late sunrise on parents sending their children to the bus stop when it’s “dead, flat dark.”

So, in a reversal of the chambers’ normal roles, the House is going to be the deliberative legislative body when it comes to setting the time, asking for studies and more committee work to consider the proposal.

Over in the Senate, late Tuesday, some senators still hadn’t decided their position on the legislation — even though they had already given their consent for it to pass.

“There’s just a lot of folks out there that really struggle with the change,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) told reporters, suggesting a permanent fix might be good. “That change is difficult.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who also learned of the legislation from reporters, paused for more than five seconds when asked to consider those winter months when the sun would rise an hour later than under current law — in early January, the Alaskan sun does not rise till after 10 a.m.

“Let me get back to you,” Sullivan said.

Daylight saving time

Snoozed: A bill to permanently “spring forward” has been stalled in Congress for more than seven months, as lawmakers trade jabs over whether the Senate should have passed the legislation at all.

Sleep experts say the Senate has it wrong: Experts widely agree with the Senate that the country should abandon its twice-yearly seasonal time changes. However, many experts believe the country should adopt year-round standard time.

The science of changing our clocks: Daylight saving time may have given us more time to enjoy late-time summer activities, but it can have a negative impact on our health. Here’s how your brain and health are affected by time changes.

Is the grass greener on the other side?: We tend to think about daylight saving time as giving us more sunlight in the evening hours (it does), but standard time also has benefits too: the Sun is up when you wake in winter. Explore how sunrise and sunset would change if permanent daylight saving time is passed.

America’s clock craziness: For roughly two decades, nobody had any clue what time it was, with some localities observing daylight saving, some not — until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act in 1966.