Ordinarily, when the Senate is moving toward a vote on a high-profile issue, there are weeks, if not months, of contentious debate. Capitol Hill hearings are held, op-eds are written, cable news segments are produced, and polls are conducted to measure public attitudes. It’s just how our policymaking process tends to unfold.
But once in a great while, senators agree to skip all of that and agree to a big change quickly. NBC News reported:
The Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would make daylight saving time permanent in the U.S. starting next year. The bill, called The Sunshine Protection Act, was passed by unanimous consent, meaning no senators opposed it. If it is enacted, Americans would no longer need to change their clocks twice a year.
This was a surprisingly bipartisan move: The Senate bill’s list of co-sponsors was almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, which helped clear the way for a floor process in which any individual member could’ve blocked the bill, but no one did.
Ordinarily, this would be about the time I start sharing some thoughts about the proposal’s merits, but in all candor, I don’t have a strong opinion about this. There are some compelling arguments for and against such a change, and at the risk of losing my pundit card, I’m disinclined to take a firm stand.
Instead, let’s consider two related questions. First, are federal policymakers really about to make this change?
A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred a reporter to comments made by Representative Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who wrote on Twitter that he was “hopeful that we can end the silliness of the current system soon.”
The White House hasn’t yet indicated whether President Joe Biden would be inclined to sign such a bill. That said, if there’s broad, bipartisan support for a change to the system, it’s tough to imagine the Democrat picking a big fight over this.
All of which leads to the second question: Do folks realize that we tried this once before? The Washington Post explained a year ago:
The year was 1973, and the United States was experiencing an energy crisis. Among the proposals put forward by President Richard M. Nixon in a November address was making daylight saving time permanent for the next two winters. Despite scant evidence of daylight saving time’s past benefit on the energy supply (dating back to DST’s various introductions since World War I), Americans really liked the idea. Polling in November and December 1973 showed strong and in some cases overwhelming support — 57 percent in a Gallup poll, 74 percent in a Louis Harris and Associates poll, and 73 percent in a poll from the Roper Organization. The policy was quickly implemented in early January 1974. But it just as quickly fell out of favor.
Public support for permanent daylight saving time was strong — right up until it wasn’t. As millions of Americans discovered they didn’t see daylight until nearly 9 a.m. during part of the year, attitudes quickly shifted and the change was undone.
This isn’t a prediction that something similar will happen a half-century later, but it’s something to keep in mind as the debate advances.