USDA backs off Christmas tree tax, will revisit issue

The Obama administration is delaying implementation of a new Christmas tree tax that has provoked conservative fury. 

A White House spokesman said the U.S. Department of Agriculture would revisit the issue after several Republican lawmakers criticized the proposed 15-cent-per-tree tax, which would have been paid by producers and importers of Christmas trees. 

The White House also pushed back at the idea it was proposing a Christmas tree tax. 

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“I can tell you unequivocally that the Obama administration is not taxing Christmas trees,” said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich in a statement. 

“What's being talked about here is an industry group deciding to impose fees on itself to fund a promotional campaign, similar to how the dairy producers have created the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign," Lehrich said. "That said, USDA is going to delay implementation and revisit this action.”

The USDA on Tuesday established a national Christmas Tree Promotion Board that requires producers and importers of fresh-cut Christmas trees selling more than 500 trees per year to pay an assessment of 15 cents per tree as part of an initiative to improve the marketing of fresh Christmas trees. 

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) lambasted the idea earlier in the day as a "taxpayer-subsidized improvement" and "marketing slush fund for the Christmas tree industry." DeMint and other Republicans denied that the government should collect money for any industry to market its product. DeMint pledged he would work to repeal the Christmas tree fee as the “single stupidest tax of all time.”

The Christmas Tree Promotion, Research, and Information Order is authorized under the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996, which also authorized the “Got Milk” and “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” campaigns. Both programs stirred previous controversy within the industries by those who objected to mandatory fees funding the campaign.

The National Christmas Tree Association, an organization of fresh-cut Christmas tree professionals, defended the program on Wednesday in a statement, claiming the majority of the industry favors funding the program.

— Sam Youngman contributed.