The Christmas Tree Tax


The Obamas have chosen their Christmas tree this year, and they want to help choose yours, too. At least that's the point of the Department of Agriculture's new Christmas Tree Promotion Board. The Foundry:

The purpose of the Board is to run a "program of promotion, research, evaluation, and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry's position in the marketplace"….

To pay for the new Federal Christmas tree image improvement and marketing program, the Department of Agriculture imposed a 15-cent fee on all sales of fresh Christmas trees by sellers of more than 500 trees per year. And, of course, the Christmas tree sellers are free to pass along the 15-cent Federal fee to consumers who buy their Christmas trees.

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

And consumers may not notice a 15 cent price hike on a once a year purchase. The small size of the tax doesn't make it any less stupid though. The fact that much of the industry practically begged the government to impose the tax on them doesn't help either. As The American Spectator points out:

If they want to fund a promotional campaign for their product, they should do it themselves, without involving the USDA.

That goes for all similar checkoff taxes, such as the ones for beef, milk, soybeans, etc. There's no reason the federal government should be involved in shaping consumer preferences. The Christmas Tree Tax has done something useful in reminding us that the Commodity Promotion, Research, and Information Act of 1996 is a dumb law. 

There's also some contention over the use of the word fee: Acting Administrator of Agricultural Marketing David R. Shipman insists that it "is not a tax nor does it yield revenue for the Federal government.'" Here's Jim Harper of the Cato Institute:

Do Christmas tree farmers go to jail if they refuse to pay? Yes. It's a tax.

How about the other half of the equation: Does it yield revenue for the Federal government? Yes. Circularly spending the tax to promote said tax doesn't mean it's not revenue, it just means it pointless.

A pointless tax that no one will notice is still worth being upset over, though not because it is some malicious attack on Christmas. "This little 15-cent tree tax is a microcosm of what's wrong with constitutional law, evermore divorced from the Constitution as it is," writes Ilya Shapiro:

First, there are obvious Free Exercise and Equal Protection issues here. That is, unless we consider Christmas trees to be wholly secular, this is an obvious burden on the free exercise of Christianity, and one that no other religion faces….

Second, and probably even more important given the times in which we live, where in the Constitution does the federal government get the power to tax the sale of a local agricultural product? Setting aside trees trucked in from out-of-state, there's no interstate commerce here to regulate….

Third, even if the tax is a lawful use of federal power, shouldn't Congress be the body levying it, rather than an agency of the USDA?

Good point. So good, in fact, spokesman Matt Lehrich is now saying the USDA "is going to delay implementation and revisit this action," according to USA Today. Perhaps all of this backlash has gotten through to someone. Either that, or fear of conservatives hyperventalating about the "War on Christmas." 

The lobbyists will still be there once the media fervor dies down, though, so don't hold your breath.

More Reason on agriculture and Christmas.

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  1. There’s no reason the federal government should be involved in shaping consumer preferences.

    You must be new here.

    1. Criticizing Obama for this is misplaced. This is regulation enabled under a law passed in 1996 under the reign of El Newt himself. I don’t blame Obama for this at all. This is what happens when the Legislature delegates away all of its power to unaccountable bureaucracies. The President didn’t instigate this action, Newt Gingrich did when his Congress set up a regulatory agency that had rule making powers and a big budget, and 15 years later, here we are. This is happening in every single Federal agency, every single day. 34,000 pages in the Federal Register and counting!

      Just for laughs, the Act itself is 15 pages long but here are the funny bits of the COMMODITY PROMOTION, RESEARCH, AND INFORMATION ACT OF 1996 1 (7 U.S.C. 7411-7425).

      First, they decide that it’s proper for the Federal government to promote agricultural products (because, you know, agribusiness can’t do that for itself, and people really don’t have awareness of things like eggs, or milk.)

      (b) PURPOSE.?The purpose of this subtitle is to authorize the establishment, through the
      exercise by the Secretary of Agriculture of the authority provided in this subtitle, of an orderly program for developing, financing, and carrying out an effective, continuous, and coordinated program of generic promotion, research, and information regarding agricultural commodities designed to?
      (1) strengthen the position of agricultural commodity industries in the marketplace;
      (2) maintain and expand existing domestic and foreign markets and uses for agricultural commodities;
      (3) develop new markets and uses for agricultural commodities; or
      (4) assist producers in meeting their conservation objectives.

      Then, in a blinding act of trust in future bureaucrats yet to be given their patronage jobs, they basically say “whatever money you need to do this, we’ll give you.”

      (a) IN GENERAL.?There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary to carry out this subtitle.
      (b) LIMITATION ON EXPENDITURES FOR ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENSES.-Funds appropriated to carry out this subtitle may not be expended for the payment of expenses incurred by a board to administer an order. (7 U.S.C. 7425.)

      And we’re expected to believe that Newt Gingrich is some kind of small government guy, a Tea Party Republican? The same guy who said drug dealers should be executed?


    Jesus, this is stupid. Bad economy, super-emotionally charged holiday, and 100% predictable to piss people off.

  3. McKelvey, you are working hard for those alt-texts. Keep it up.

    1. Hey! That’s my gig! You don’t seen me motivating anonymous stalkers, do you?

      1. You want to switch?

        1. No. I want the role of being scared of candy bars.

          1. Well, you’ll have to talk about switching with Warty then.

            1. On second thought, someone else joining my crusade is a good thing.

  4. I had not realized this was just the USDA going completely off the agency reservation to use the Federal Jackboot to pad its budget.

    So, its unconstitutional three ways

    (1) Exceeds Commerce Clause (as written, not as SCOTUSed),

    (2) Violates the BOR, just as much as a tax on Muslim prayer rugs would.

    (3) Is an ultra vires exercise of power by an agency.

    I predict a 9-0 SCOTUS opinion upholding the tax. Hell, they may even bring in a couple of extra Justices, just to run up the score.

    1. (1) Exceeds Commerce Clause (as written, not as SCOTUSed)

      That’s 2/3 of the federal govt. I mean, I agree, but this is nothing new.

      (2) Violates the BOR, just as much as a tax on Muslim prayer rugs would.

      Muslim prayer rugs are a core part of their religion. Christmas trees are based on a German pagan custom tolerated by the medieval church and are really not a core part of Christianity even today. Plus, you can get a plastic tree with no religious detriment.

      Though I do get a chuckle out of people (not you) simultaneously insisting that Christmas trees in public squares are not an establishment of religion because they’re secular, and that taxing them violates free excercise because they’re religious symbols.

      1. Since we have freedom of religion, not freedom of Christianity, what the fuck does the debate over whether they’re Christian or Germanic pagan have to do with anything?

        There is not a general tax on trees, there is a tax on “Christmas” trees. Regardless, unless they renamed Congress as “USDA”, it has no tax authority.

        1. it matters because RC attempts to conflate “Christmas” tree to Muslim prayer rug as a symbol of religion and, as such, a violation of the First Amendment and govt’s hands-off policy toward religion. Bigger issue is that it is not govt’s place to enact taxes to help any industry promote itself.

      2. This tax violates freedom of religion, but it also violates the establishment clause. The tax funds will be used:

        To pay for the new Federal Christmas tree image improvement and marketing program

        Why are the feds promoting the sale of a religious item?

    2. I’m with RC Dean on this one. I oppose Christmas trees and menorahs on government property. The Christmas tree is definitely a Christian religious item.

      1. The astro-theological sun god Jesus, at equinox, rises from the “dead” as the days become longer than nights, and the Sun overcomes darkness.

        And the holiday is still called Ishtar (Easter,) the goddess of fertility.

        So fuck like bunnies during a Sun-Rise service.

      2. Jesus titty fucking Christ, Christmas trees are a pagan symbol. Instead of getting your panties in a bunch you should be laughing at how full of pagan symbolism and commercialism the American Christmas has become. Also how everyone makes a big deal out of Christmas when Easter is far and away the more important holiday from a religious perspective. Hell it could be argued that Christmas is way down the list.

      3. The menorah actually has a connection to Judaism (the triumph of the Maccabees). Don’t conflate that with a tree that has little to do with Christianity.

        Hell, pine trees didn’t even grow in the area where Christianity came from.

        1. Customs adopted by Christians pretty much make those customs Christian customs.

          God damn.

          1. + 1 to Colonel_Angus

            Mecca was a center for pagan worship before Mohammed took it over. By Tulpa’s logic, Mecca doesn’t have any significance to Islam.

        2. Christmas trees are technically not pines, but firs. But if you want to lump all needled evergreens together, cedars are pretty famous in that area of the world.

    3. Tulpa, I bet the percentage of Christians who have a Christmas tree on Christmas is much greater than the percentage that go to mass on Christmas.

  5. I don’t want the Christian christmas tree, I want the tax-free Muslim/Jewish tree

  6. What’s next? October pumpkin tax?

    1. The Great Pumpkin would never allow that.

    2. That would cause Linus to go on a Great Pumpkin jihad.

      1. That blanket is actually a keffiyeh.

  7. What the hell is a “Christmas tree”?

    1. Winter Festival Tree

        1. It’s kind of like a Festivus pole, except more arboreal.

    2. Apparently certain people think its totally practical and good fung shooey to put a fucking nine foot tall, six foot diameter, pine tree in their fucking living room.

  8. “Second, and probably even more important given the times in which we live, where in the Constitution does the federal government get the power to tax the sale of a local agricultural product? Setting aside trees trucked in from out-of-state, there’s no interstate commerce here to regulate….”

    Um, Raich v. Gonzalez and Wickard v. Filburn? Not sayin’ I agree with those decisions, I’m just sayin’.

    1. The Constitution is like 100 years old, and stuff.

  9. Point of information: all the pagans I know have trees. The pagan holiday of Yule was coopted by xtians into xmas. (fun fact: historical Jesus was probably born in Summer).

    Also, many atheists have trees, but it’s about 50/50…

    1. No trees for Saturnalia.

    2. Astro-theology: And the Sun shall rise again!

    3. I don’t have a tree because it makes a fucking huge mess and is work.

      Yeah, my Xmas spirit isn’t the strongest.

      “Your mistletoe is no match for my T.O.W. missile!”

      1. Christmas Tree Tradition- “kinda sounds like the behavior of a drunk man to me”..

        1. +1

  10. The Bible hates Christmas Trees.

    Jeremiah 10:1-5

    [1] Hear what the Lord says to you , O house of Israel. [2] This is what the Lord says: “Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. [3] For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. [4] They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. [5] Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.”

    1. Um, he is talking about idols, not every tree related product or piece of decorated wood.

      1. …just like they deny much of the plain meaning of the words in the Bible that don’t suit their fancy.

        Ya fasten Christmas trees at the bottom so they don’t totter. Idols don’t, um…totter.

        1. Dude, seriously, pick a fucking handle. That’s what goes in the name box.

        2. No no no. It’s christfags. Get it right.

    2. Um, no one prays to his Christmas tree.

  11. I blame the Rolling Stones. Had they not paid pianist Chuck Lavelle so much money, he may not own a Christmas tree farm, and sport such a massive lobbying stick.

  12. The free exercise argument seems like a stretch — (a) you can buy an artificial tree, (b) no Christian sect that I’m aware of requires its members to put up a tree, (c) there are a number of Christian sects that actively prohibit their members from putting up trees (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses), and (d) there are non-Christians who buy trees because of mixed faith traditions in the household or even just because they like the holiday atmosphere without agreeing with the underlying religious concept (see Ayn Rand’s essay on why atheists can celebrate Christmas).

    1. Counterpoint: It’s called a freaking Christmas tree.

      1. …and called it Christ Mass.

        So fuck’em, just like Paul the Apostle — and half the priestcraft afterwards — liked to cornhole little boys.

        Christianity started out as just another sect of sacred pederasty.

        1. And your point is? Why does the origin matter? It’s clearly a Christian holiday now.

          1. It takes place on the winter solstice (actually, a few days after when the sun starts to “move” on the horizon.)

            Unless you accept that early Christianity was astro-theological in nature, instead of a Zombie Savior.

            1. Christmas isn’t a Christian holiday. So all those Christmas Masses are pagan. Got it.

            2. AD, see my 3:52 post above. Christmas is indeed a Christian holiday (duh), but it was stolen from the germanic tribes whose (soi dissant) religious descendants still celebrate it as Yule.

              The Christian mass is a re-working of the jewish shabbat meal, but with overlays of ritual cannibalism (come, eat, this is my body…).

              1. oh, and no slight meant to Jews by not capitalizing them above.

              2. What relevance does the origin have to whether or not it is counts as part of the Christian religion now, thousands of years later?

    2. …nothing short of war between the market economy and the gift economy, between a system that takes away everything that makes us human in a self-reinforcing cycle of isolation and dehumanization, and a system that grounds us in a firm social network, that ennobles us and makes us human, that brings good tidings of great joy to all humanity. It’s the system Jesus tried to teach us. What would it be like if we really did make Christmas last the whole year long? It would be a gift economy?it would be a tribe. It’s no empty holiday slogan: it’s our birthright. We deserve nothing less, and settling for less is killing us. If we don’t demand more, if we don’t demand what we deserve, and if we don’t do it right now, then we have ceded our right to survive. It’s time we actually did make Christmas last all year?nothing less will do.

      The Subversive Spirit of Christmas
      by Jason Godesky | 14 December 2006…

      1. I’m always getting shit I don’t want on Christmas, and judging from the return lines the following week, I’m guessing a lot of other people do, too. What a stupid, inefficient economy that would be.

      2. What would it be like if we really did make Christmas last the whole year long? It would be a gift economy

        For starters, we would run out of toilet paper. I can’t think of anyone who volunteers to make toilet paper on Christmas.

  13. I’d like to strangle the first fool Druid who came up with the hair brained idea of bringing a tree into the house.

  14. The War on Christmas is a totally legitimate thing.

    1. Seems legit to me.

  15. This is why you should cut your own tree down and gambol it back to your house.

  16. I took Government in High School – things have sure changed. Used to be that Congress taxed and spent. The Executive branch enforced the law and stuff.

  17. Wow is this stupid. The stated purpose doesn’t even make sense. How do Christmas trees need help in the marketplace to “strengthen the Christmas tree industry’s position in the marketplace”?

    Oh, well. I’ve never paid money for a Christmas tree and I’m not about to start.

    1. Yeah, I can’t imagine someone buying or not buying a Christmas tree based on a TV commercial. It’s not exactly an impulse buy.

  18. “The sun is dying!”

    The sun was beginning to dip down from its zenith, but everyone in the hunting party knew the deeper truth in the hunt-leader’s cry. Since the Midsummer Festival, the sun’s strength had begun to fade; it had retired earlier and earlier each night, as the days grew shorter. Today was the day it all depended on?the day that would determine the fate of the world. Today, the sun would die, and as Tom gripped his bow, he knew that it had fallen to him to save the world.

    Their quarry lay ahead; a herd of elephants on the open plains. Was it a zoo, or some private ranch owned by a hunter with a taste for the exotic, where their ancestors had once lived? No matter. Like the horses the hunters rode, the elephants, too, had an exciting story. Every hunter had a close relationship with his horse…

    Christmas Eve 2050
    by Jason Godesky | 21 November 2006…..-eve-2050/

  19. Winter Festival Tree

    Nope. That “-al” is Church Latin.

    There’s a “season,” and maybe a “break,” and, if you’re pressed, some “holidays” which cannot be named (unless they’re really old-timey), but no “festival.”


  20. On the free exercise argument, I actually think the analogy between Christmas Trees and Muslim prayer rugs is not bad.

    Prayer rugs are not universally used by Muslims, nor specifically required in Islam. But they have become a traditional way for many Muslims to ensure the cleanliness of their place of prayer, and to create an isolated space to concentrate in prayer.

    Not universally used or required – check.

    A traditional adjunct to the religion – check.

    If Ag can pad its budget by taxing Christmas trees, then Homeland Security can pad its budget by taxing prayer rugs.

    1. I like the way you think…

    2. Except Christians don’t use the tree for religious purposes. It sits in the corner while they celebrate the holiday.

      You might as well claim that plastic Santa Clauses are religious symbols because Christians tend to put them up around one of their holidays.

      1. Tulpa,
        1) Does this mean you wouldn’t object to a government fund to promote the sale of plastic Santa Clauses?
        2) Statues of the Virgin Mary just sit there on many lawns. Does that make those statues secular? What about the crucifixes that just hang on walls?

  21. And Gamboling!

  22. “And, of course, the Christmas tree sellers are free to pass along the 15-cent Federal fee to consumers who buy their Christmas trees.”

    Can you conceive of an arrangement by which it wouldn’t be passed along to the consumer?

    Who else is going to pay it? The tax fairy?

    (BTW, if the latter is true, then uh…gotta cell number or anything?)

    All business taxes that are applied marketwide are paid by consumers. But that brings me to my next point:

    How does one get an Obama administration Christmas Tree Tax exemption? Can this be applied for with the same paperwork submitted for an Obamacare exemption? How ’bout bailout/stimulus stuff? Is there a three-way form a business can fill out to hit all of these at once?

    Besides, arent’ they going to end up calling it a Festivus Tree Tax, or Holiday Tree Tax, or some such thing?

    Finally, a point I’m surprised the atheist crowd didn’t bring up is: What business is it of the government to promote the sale of tree associated with a religious holiday in the first place???

    1. How does one get an Obama administration Christmas Tree Tax exemption?

      Unionize, of course. And heavy on the dem party donantions…

    2. I suspect they’re referring to the fact that the Christmas tree sellers are allowed to not include the tax in the base price of the tree and just add it on after the deal has been made.

      Gas stations and cigarette sellers are not allowed to separate the gas tax and sin tax from the base prices, for instance.

  23. …the Department of Agriculture’s new Christmas Tree Promotion Board.

    Finally, something perfectly appropriate for the Jesus Facepalm. Even Jesus knows how blatantly unconstitutional this is.

    Not that it’ll affect me one bit; I’ll be installing the same made-in-China fake tree that I’ve been using for about 10 years.

  24. the point is moot:…..e-tax.html

    there is no tax anymore.

  25. Got Milk?

  26. So, if I just sell juvenile pine/fir trees, say about 5-6 feet high, and sell them cut off at the bottom (just put the base in water, in some sort of a “stand”, it might grow back!), do I have to pay or not?

    I would love to see their definition of “Christmas tree” but it’s probably about 80 pages long, so maybe I wouldn’t.

  27. Jesus Christ was born under a pine tree, back before global warming took hold.

  28. The costs of accounting for the 15 cent tax will be greater than 15 cents when passed on from the operator to the consumer. This is not a tax that the consumer is directly paying, so theoretically the cost of compliance will result in greater overhead.

  29. “I have moved up from ‘born-again’ to the really cool ‘grinch’ category.”

  30. I suspect they’re referring to the fact that the Christmas tree sellers are allowed to not include the tax in the base price of the tree and just add it on after the deal has been made.

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