(The Hill) – More than four months after the Senate unanimously passed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent in the U.S., the measure has hit a brick wall in the House.
The main impediments dimming the legislation’s chances of passing appear to be fundamental disagreements over its language and a general consensus that other matter take precedence as the House grapples with high inflation, gun massacres and fending off judicial threats on issues such as abortion and marriage equality.
“I can’t say it’s a priority,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill recently.
“We have so many other priorities, but it doesn’t mean because it’s not a priority that we’re not trying to work on it. We are,” he said, adding “if we can accomplish anything it wouldn’t be until the fall.”
The Senate created a buzz in March when it approved the Sunshine Protection Act — which would make daylight saving time permanent — through unanimous consent, drawing widespread headlines. The legislation, which would not take effect until November 2023, calls for abandoning the process of changing clocks twice a year, a practice intended to give Americans an extra hour of daylight during the fall and winter.
But to do that, U.S. residents would lose an hour of daylight in the morning from November through February.
For instance, with the law currently in place, the sun is scheduled to rise in New York at 7:16 a.m. on Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year. But if the Sunshine Protection Act takes effect, residents in the Empire State would have to wait until 8:16 a.m. to see the sun rise on the Winter Solstice.
It is a similar situation in the afternoon — the sun will set in New York at 4:31 p.m. the day of the winter solstice, but with the Sunshine Protection Act, that would be pushed to 5:31 p.m.
The legislation received a warm welcome from some House members immediately after it passed the Senate — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she supported making daylight saving time permanent — but others noted that there were far more pressing issues to address.
Days after Senate passage, some House members started asking for additional research into and discussion regarding the bill, signaling potential headwinds.
And now, Pallone is saying that while a number of lawmakers agree that “spring forward” and “fall back” clock changes should be done away with, they are at odds over what the permanent time should be — daylight saving or standard.
“We continue to try to come up with a consensus but so far, it’s eluded us,” Pallone said.
“The problem is that a lot of people say to me, ‘Oh, we should just have, you know, we shouldn’t switch back and forth, we should just have standard or daylight saving,’ but then they disagree over which one to enact. And so that’s the problem. We need a consensus that if we’re gonna have one time, what is it? And I haven’t been able to get a consensus on that,” he added.
The Energy and Commerce chairman emphasized that the disagreements are based on geographical location and not party affiliation.
Lawmakers in tourism areas, for example, are generally in favor of daylight saving time because they want visitors to stay out later, according to Pallone. But in rural locations that have large farmer communities, an extra hour in the morning is optimal.
“It’s not at all partisan,” Pallone said. “It’s totally, you know, regional and depends on your district.”
These are also some religious concerns. According to a Democratic aide, at least one lawmaker has received pushback to the measure from Yeshivas, who are worried that the new time system will conflict with morning prayers.
“I know that there were some concerns raised that I felt like we needed to take some time to address, so I’m gonna keep working on it,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill this week.
Some lawmakers, however, have not spoken highly of the measure. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told The Hill last month that he was “somewhat unimpressed with this effort,” and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, “I don’t think it’s a good bill.”
While the swift Senate passage of the Sunshine Protection Act caught some lawmakers and private citizens off-guard, the push to make daylight saving time the law of the land has been a decades-long effort backed by a number of business groups, especially golf organizations, that view an extra hour of daylight as beneficial for the bottom line.
Then-President Nixon signed a bill in 1974 to make daylight saving time permanent for two years as a way to address the nationwide gas shortage. But that timely experiment quickly failed, with President Ford signing legislation only nine months later to reinstate the bi-annual switching of the clocks after public approval of the change plummeted.
Public opinion, however, now appears to be up. A Monmouth University poll conducted in March found that 61 percent want to ditch the twice-yearly changing of the clocks, compared to 35 percent who want to keep the status quo.
Similarly, 59 percent of adults surveyed by YouGov said they would like to see daylight saving time made permanent, compared to 19 percent who would not.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, told The Hill last month that a “disproportionate amount” of her constituents were discussing the matter after it cleared the Senate, noting that “almost” all the feedback was positive.
But some lawmakers, including Schakowsky, say that now is just not the right time to take up the legislation.
“It just does not seem as the kind of urgent priority right now. That’s all,” she said last week. “So, you know, how much focus is on it, how much attention, little.”
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), who sponsored the companion bill in the House, said the chamber has been “preoccupied” with a number of other matters, and Rep. Greg Pence (R-Ind.) said it is “not at all” a priority.
Asked about the bill, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill that he had not “heard anything about it lately,” adding “there was some talk months ago but it’s fallen by the wayside I think with so many of the other issues that are out there.”
But according to one Democratic aide, the ideal timeframe for approving the bill has passed, and there are slim odds that another will come along before the end of the year.
“If this bill was gonna move this Congress, like, we would’ve had to move it right after the Senate passed it,” the aide said. “I think that was kind of like our shot, and since it didn’t happen then, like it’s now kind of fallen off as a priority.”
The aide characterized the circumstances as a “strike while the iron is hot” situation, noting that the momentum following Senate passage quickly died down.
“There was like this big momentum to push it, and that kind of fell apart. And I think that’s really, kind of, hard to regain that momentum,” the aide said.