The Christmas Tree: Washington’s Weapon Against Conservatives
Mike Needham /
Over the past several decades, big-government lawmakers and lobbyists have developed a wide array of techniques they have used to successfully advance their own interests, usually to the detriment of our nation. If conservatives are to be successful in changing Washington and saving the country, we must first understand the tools of their self-indulging trade.
One of the easiest tricks to spot is the “Christmas Tree.”
The Senate’s glossary helpfully defines a “Christmas tree” bill as one “that attracts many, often unrelated, floor amendments. The amendments which adorn the bill may provide special benefits to various groups or interests.” In many cases, though, the bill is amended behind closed doors with little or no notice to or scrutiny from interested parties, such as taxpayers.
In these cases, only a handful of lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers are privy to the bill’s details until the authors make it public, leaving little time for those of us on the outside to read, review, and analyze hundreds — sometimes thousands — of pages of complex legislative language.
Case in point is the $1.111 trillion omnibus spending bill the House passed yesterday. The 1,582-page bill was released just after 8 p.m. on Monday, and while most were aware of the spending level (too high), hardly anyone knew which policy riders were or were not included in the package, what programs saw spending cuts or increases, and what extraneous measures were added.
It was in response to multiple Pelosi-led omnibus spending bills that House Republicans, in their 2010 Pledge to America, promised to “end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with ‘must-pass’ legislation to circumvent the will of the American people.”
Nonetheless, stalled legislative priorities that have been unable to pass muster on their own have found a home in this massive proposal. Perhaps most alarming was the inclusion of language – sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) — that would delay the implementation of a 2012 reform that required the phase out of subsidies on flood insurance premiums so that policyholders would eventually begin paying actuarially sound rates.
There are any number of concerning policy and spending changes in the bill, including a $612 million increase in Head Start funding, another $125 million for stimulus-era TIGER grants and allocating (instead of eliminating) Obamacare’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, appropriately labeled a slush fund.
The bill’s massive scope and compressed time frame for consideration is by design. As Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) told CQ Roll Call (subscription required) last week, the “longer it sits out there the more opportunity there will be for people to pick at it and try to take it down.” Another unnamed Republican lawmaker referred to the strategy as “blitzkrieg.”
So much for transparency.
On Twitter, a Washington Post reporter ominously joked, “First an omnibus. Then earmarks. Soon we’ll be back to a functioning congress!”
The question to ask is, for whom is Congress functioning when it operates behind closed doors. Arguably, big-government lobbyists and special interests are well served when Congress moves a “Christmas tree” bill because there are too many targets for outside groups, lawmakers and citizens to focus on.
Rarely do such large bills fall under the collective weight of the ornaments because lawmakers realize the only way their priority can become law is by attaching it to a piece of legislation full of everyone else’s priorities.
Whether it is spending, immigration or health care, the American people — and conservative policy priorities — are poorly served when items are cobbled together into one massive bill.
Rest assured, you’ll know a “Christmas tree” bill when you see it, and you can all but guarantee that much like children on Christmas Eve, big-government politicians and lobbyists in Washington will be positively giddy.
Michael A. Needham is the chief executive officer of Heritage Action for America. Learn more about Heritage Action and get involved.