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Is President Obama 'the Grinch who taxed Christmas' trees?

November 09, 2011|By James Oliphant
(Pete Souza/White House )

The first shots in this year’s War over Christmas have officially been fired.

Just like TV retail store ads and decorative Starbucks cups, the battle, which typically involves some real or perceived slight toward the holiday, seems to arrive earlier every year.

This season, so far at least, the front concerns a so-called 15-cent “Christmas tree tax” put in place by the Department of Agriculture to help promote the sale of living, needle-dropping trees instead of the plastic ones you keep in your basement all year.

Quick reaction: President Obama hates Christmas. Or if he doesn’t, he hates Christmas trees.

Cue angry lawmaker:

"It is shocking that President Obama tried to sneak through this new tax on Christmas trees.  He might have thought nobody would realize what he did, but I will fight to prevent President Obama from becoming the Grinch who taxed Christmas,” said Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. “This new tax is a smack in the face to each and every American who celebrates Christmas.”

Add outraged pundit:

“The economy is barely growing and 9% of the American people have no jobs.  Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do?,” wrote David Addington of the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “ (In his previous life, Addington was Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.) “And, by the way, the American Christmas tree has a great image that doesn’t need any help from the government.”

Now shake well. For its part, the government says that the fee isn’t a tax because the money collected, expected to be about $2 million, will be used to help the nation’s Christmas tree industry. The government’s done this before. Remember the “Got Milk?” campaign. It’s like that.

The National Christmas Tree Assn., based in Chesterfield, Mo., says that the program was requested by the industry, not the Obama administration. And the surcharge shouldn’t affect the price of trees this year. And it isn’t a tax. And if it is, it’s only 15 cents—and trees run on average about $40.

“It’s not a tax,” said a very beleaguered Rick Dungey, a spokesman for the association, whose day was slowly being ruined by a wave of media calls. “It’s a checkoff program.”

Dungey was referring callers to an NCTA statement, which reads in part:

“The program is designed to benefit the industry and will be funded by the growers at a rate of 15 cents per tree sold. The program will be administered by an independent 12-member board of small-business owners who grow and sell farm-grown Christmas trees and they will be responsible for developing and approving promotional and research efforts to benefit the entire industry. The program is not expected to have any impact on the final price consumers pay for their Christmas tree.”

Dungey was asked how he thought the president views Christmas. He wouldn’t take the bait.

“I don’t know anything about President Obama,” he said. “My job is to promote Christmas trees.”

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