I’m seriously bummed because the tax, announced Tuesday, was such a gift. It was the perfect symbol of governmental incompetence.
First, the 15-cent tax on Christmas trees is just the latest example of crony capitalism aimed at aiding one industry segment – fresh trees – against another – artificial trees.
Various “fresh” Christmas tree trade associations asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a federally-mandated tax to bolster sales through advertising and research. Fresh tree sales have been hard hit by artificial Christmas tree sales, declining from 37 million trees in 1991 to 31 million in 2007. The federal program also promotes other products such as beef and milk.
Second, the tax laid bare governmental hypocrisy. The display of Christmas trees in government buildings is routinely vilified as an unconstitutional comingling of church and state. Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin became just the latest victim Monday, when he insisted on calling the tree in the state capitol a “Christmas Tree,” rather than the politically-correct “Holiday Tree.”
So now we know. Given a choice between expanding the scope of Big Government and hewing to supposedly cherished constitutional principles, the Obama administration picked Big Government.
Third, the tax is imposed on sales of “Christmas Trees.” What, exactly, is a Christmas Tree? The federal regulations say a “Christmas Tree” is, well, a “Christmas Tree.” Quoting directly: “Christmas tree means any tree of the coniferous species, that is severed or cut from its roots and marketed as a Christmas tree for holiday use.”
Just imagine the tax collection complications. If producers market their product as “Holiday Trees” – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – then no tax would be due. Nor would a tax be due for a Hanukkah Bush or a Kwansaa Tree, though these look just like “Christmas Trees.”
Obama decided to “defer” the tax for political reasons, according to one blog:
The 15-cents per-tree fee is supposed to help market real Christmas Trees instead of fake ones. Other industries have similar fees that pay for programs for meat, poultry and cotton, according to this article with the snappy headline “A fee on thee, oh Christmas tree.”
Puns like this are inevitable. And that’s what makes this so potentially troublesome for Obama. It’s the stuff of jokes. Add in the chuckle factor, penny-ante nature of the fee, the perennial ‘war-on-Christmas’ jihad of the right and the sentiment of Christmas, and we’re sure to soon see jpegs of Obama painted like the grinch.
But there’s always next year.