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House Standard Time

The big House vote on the North American Free Trade Agreement was scheduled to come yesterday when Congress seems to do much of its important work: in the evening.

House leaders decided the chamber should convene at 9 a.m. EST. After an hour's debate on procedures for the day and a vote on them, there were to be eight hours of debate on NAFTA itself, followed by the climactic vote around 9 p.m.

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There are several theories about why important votes are usually scheduled so late.

One is that the leadership wants the hard choices to be made after the evening news, so that lawmakers aren't in the full glare of the nation's spotlight when they cast ballots that may alienate some powerful interest groups.

Another is that, after a day of grueling debate, lawmakers become frazzled and, hence, more malleable to pressure from legislative leaders.

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