Morning Bell: Obama’s Christmas Tree Tax

Mike Brownfield /

Christmas is more than a month away, but the Obama Administration just couldn’t wait to hang a shiny new ornament on every fresh Christmas tree in America: a 15-cent tax to support a new federal program to improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees. Following a public outcry, the White House changed course, not a day later.

No, it’s not a joke. Heritage Vice President David Addington broke the story Tuesday night on, writing that in the Federal Register of November 8, it was announced that the Secretary of Agriculture will appoint a Christmas Tree Promotion Board to run a “program of promotion, research, evaluation, and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry’s position in the marketplace.” Among its goals: “to enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States.” Yes, you read that correctly. The Obama Administration wanted the federal government to handle public relations for Christmas trees.

How did the White House want to pay for it? With a 15-cent fee on all sales of fresh Christmas trees by sellers of more than 500 trees per year. As Addington wrote, “Of course, the Christmas tree sellers are free to pass along the 15-cent federal fee to consumers who buy their Christmas trees.” More taxes for American consumers in the middle of the Christmas season? Some present. Especially with the economy barely growing and 14 million Americans out of work. As Addington wrote, “Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do?”

After the article was posted on, the story was picked up by the Drudge Report, more than a million people read it, and a firestorm erupted–including reaction from left-wing websites coming out in knee-jerk defense of the Obama Administration. One writer argued that the 15-cent fee is “far from a tax” while also trumpeting the positive benefits of the federal government “partnering” with industry for marketing and research.

What they didn’t mention, though, is that it’s a partnership that many in the Christmas tree industry simply don’t want. As reported in the Federal Register, the industry “tried three different times to conduct promotional programs based on voluntary contributions. Each time, after about three years, the revenue declined to a point where the programs were ineffective.” In other words, many Christmas tree sellers decided they no longer wanted to participate in the programs.

So what did the industry do? It sought a mandatory tax, imposed by the federal government, to force compliance among individual sellers who otherwise didn’t want to participate. And the Obama Administration was happy to oblige. Heritage’s Diane Katz says this episode underscores a fundamental problem with the White House’s philosophy:

Clearly the Obama Administration is confused about free enterprise. Not only is it forcing Americans to buy specific types of health insurance, it is also forcing Christmas tree growers to pay into a government promotion fund that failed to garner voluntary contributions.

The good news is that this Christmas story has a happy ending, at least for now. Not 24 hours after Heritage posted its report, the Obama Administration decided to delay its Christmas tree tax while the Department of Agriculture reconsiders its order, as ABC’s Jake Tapper reported. But what’s troubling is that, had this story not come to light, and had Americans not spoken out, yet another tax — another mandate from the federal government — would have been imposed on industry and the American people without their knowledge.

Proponents of the fee might say it’s only 15 cents, but that’s just the problem. It’s so small that most folks might not notice. But given free rein, Washington will keep right on taxing until Americans are nickel-and-dimed to death. And if you hang too many ornaments on a Christmas tree, eventually it will collapse under the weight.

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