Politics

The Senate Unanimously Agreed to Make Daylight Saving Time Permanent

Huh.

Markey speaks on the Senate floor next to a poster of a clock that says "Sunshine and Smiles: Make Daylight Savings Time Permanent"
Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts supported making daylight saving time permanent, with a sign. U.S. Senate

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has repeatedly introduced legislation to make daylight saving time the year-round standard since 2018. It hadn’t gone anywhere.

This year, though, he—and his comrades in arms—waited until that one three-day stretch when the annoyance of clock-switching is atop everyone’s minds: the few days following daylight saving time, when most of the country is cranky after losing an hour of sleep.

This week, which is that week, they struck. It worked: The Senate passed Rubio’s Sunshine Protection Act by unanimous consent on Tuesday.

Advertisement

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who presided over the act’s adoption, was among those pleased with the change.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

All the lobbyists at Big Late Afternoon Sunshine need now is an easy-peasy vote in the House and a presidential signature, and you’ll never have to change your clock again. (Starting in 2023, per a last-minute amendment.) Numerous states have opted to move to year-round DST in recent years, but need a change in federal statute to implement the change.

So is this a good thing? People on Twitter sure have a lot of feelings. But allow us to just scratch the surface a bit more.

Advocates argue that more afternoon sunshine makes you happy! Consider New England, where the sun goes down around zero o’clock in the afternoon during winter. Another hour of sunlight in the afternoon isn’t enough to make New England a happy place—can anything?—but it might at least take the edge off. Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey just wants his constituents to smile.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Rubio, meanwhile, laid out a couple of reasons for his support.

Advertisement
Advertisement

First: science. “There’s some strong science behind it that is now showing and making people aware of the harm that clock-switching has,” Rubio said on the floor Tuesday. “We see an increase in heart attacks and car accidents and pedestrian accidents in the week[s] that follow the changes.” Advocates also like to point to a JPMorgan Chase study that shows consumer spending drops when clocks fall back in October.

Advertisement
Advertisement

But, as Rubio said, this is really about the children, who have no sunlight to play in during those winter months in Florida, a rare state where it is feasible to be outdoors during winter.

“We’re a country [in which] we desperately want our kids to be outside, to be playing, to be doing sports, not just to be sitting in front of a TV or a computer terminal or playing video games all day,” Rubio said. “And it gets really tough, in many parts of the country, to be able to do that.”

Advertisement

The thing about moving to daylight saving time permanently, however, is that it does not actually create more sunlight. It would get dark an hour later in winter, sure. But it would also be very dark when people are waking up and going to work and school. In D.C., for example, sunrise under daylight saving time on Dec. 21 would be 8:23 a.m. It would be worse the farther west one is in a time zone. In Cleveland, the sunrise would be at 8:50 a.m. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, 9:11 a.m.

Advertisement
Advertisement

And there’s good evidence to believe that people might not like a change to permanent DST once it’s implemented. For example: the previous time the United States did this exact thing, and people hated it.

Advertisement

In 1973, President Richard Nixon, seeking to find a way to alleviate the pain of an energy crisis (and to do morning crimes in the darkness?), signed into law a year-round DST bill. This enjoyed wild polling support at the time. Shortly after it was implemented in 1974, though, people started going to work and school in the dark and polling support collapsed. It screwed up circadian rhythms! Everyone was losing it! It didn’t help with energy costs either. So the experiment wasn’t renewed.

Advertisement

Have times changed? Sure. Much fewer kids are walking to school now, so there is less immediate safety concern about sending them out into dark streets in the morning. That, however, does not solve the problem of people being miserable and confused if they’ve been up for a couple of hours in the dark. (We could always allow society to start a little later in the morning. Just one not-a-morning-person’s two cents.)

Advertisement
Advertisement

Will the House take this up? Carlos Paz, a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said, “The bill just passed this afternoon and we are reviewing it closely,” and directed me to a tweet thread from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, who was “hopeful that we can end the silliness of the current system soon.”

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But Joe Biden was in Congress when they tried this the first time, so possibly he remembers the backlash that ensued, and can recognize that sometimes the status quo is the status quo for a reason.

Or maybe there’s just more important stuff happening right now.

Advertisement