“Grinching”: Right-Wing Media Attacks Obama For Industry-Promoted Christmas Tree Tax

Right-Wing media attacked President Obama for a recent Department of Agriculture decision to assess a tax on Christmas trees, claiming Obama is “grinching 15 cents out of your pocket.” In fact, the tax is intended to promote the live Christmas tree industry and is supported by grower associations.

Right-Wing Media Claims Obama “Grinching” With Christmas Tree Tax

Fox & Friends Chryon: “Grinched By The Government: Christmas Tree Tax Adds 15 Cents Per.” During the November 9 broadcast of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson claimed the administration is “grinching 15 cents out of your pocket potentially” by adding a tax to the price of live Christmas trees. Carlson later noted that the program is intended to boost sales of live trees and “the majority of Christmas tree farms are in favor of” the new program. During the segment, an on-screen graphic said, “Grinched By The Government.” From Fox & Friends:


[Fox News Channel, Fox & Friends, 11/9/11, via Media Matters]

Hoft: “Barack Obama Hates Christians.” In a November 8 the Gateway Pundit post titled, “Bah Humbug...Obama Imposes 15¢ Tax on Christmas Trees,” Jim Hoft suggested the Christmas tree tax showed that “Barack Obama [h]ates Christians.” [The Gateway Pundit, 11/8/11]

Powers: “I Couldn't Believe The First Order Of Business Wasn't To Remove The Word 'Christmas' From The Name.” In a November 8 MichelleMalkin.com post, Doug Powers wrote:

When I read that the federal government was getting involved in the Christmas tree industry, I couldn't believe the first order of business wasn't to remove the word "Christmas" from the name. Maybe that'll come later, but for now the Obama administration is trying to help during a down economy, which of course involves a new business fee, which will cost consumers more. I can feel that recession lifting already. [MichelleMalkin.com, 11/8/11, emphasis original]

Drudge: “Obama's New 'Christmas Tree Tax'” On November 9, the Drudge Report linked to a Heritage Foundation blog about the plan under the headline, “Obama's New 'Christmas Tree Tax.' ” From the Drudge Report:


[Drudge Report Archives, 11/9/11]

In Fact, The Tax Is Meant To Promote The Christmas Tree Industry, And Is Supported By Growers

The Federal Registry: Program Will “Strengthen The Position Of Fresh Cut Christmas Trees.” On November 8, the Federal Registry published a rule establishing a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture “to strengthen the position of fresh cut Christmas trees in the marketplace and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees within the United States.” From the Federal Registry:

USDA received a proposal for a national research and promotion program for Christmas trees from the Christmas Tree Checkoff Task Force (Task Force). The program will be financed by an assessment on Christmas trees domestic producers and importers and would be administered by a board of industry members selected by the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretary). The initial assessment rate will be $0.15 per Christmas tree domestically produced or imported into the United States and could be increased up to $0.20 per Christmas tree. The purpose of the program will be to strengthen the position of fresh cut Christmas trees in the marketplace and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees within the United States.

The Task Force proposed that a referendum be held among domestic producers and importers three years after the first assessments begin to determine whether they favor continuation of the program. [The Federal Registry, 11/8/11]

The Chicago Tribune: Most Grower Organizations Support The Program. In a November 9 article, The Chicago Tribune reported that the live Christmas tree industry supported the fee and the program. From The Chicago Tribune:

Akin to similar programs that promote milk, beef and cotton, the Christmas tree program will impose on U.S. domestic producers and importers an initial fee of 15 cents per tree.

A 12-member board will direct the money to generic ads and other promotions, as well as research. The promotions, according to the USDA, will present “a favorable image of Christmas trees to the general public,” with the intent of improving the public “perception” of Christmas trees and, hence, their sales.

“We have good reason to believe it will be successful for our industry,” Betty Malone, an Oregon tree farmer and president of Christmas Tree Promotion Now, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We looked at what other industries have done, and how successful they've been.”

After three years, growers and importers will vote on whether to continue the program. [The Chicago Tribune, 11/9/11]

NCTA Explored A “Federal Marketing Order” 2008. In March 2008, the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) concluded that a “federal marketing order” could help alleviate the “continued erosion of the market share of farm-grown Christmas Trees.” From the NCTA's Christmas Tree Checkoff study blog post:

While the fake tree industry is investing dollars to vigorously promote their product, the Real Tree industry is pulling back and devoting fewer funds to public relations and marketing. More than 1,000 people donated more than $900,000 for 2004 promotion and marketing programs. By 2007, donations to the market expansion activities had dropped to about $400,000. The erosion of funding resulted in fewer projects aimed at positively impacting consumer attitudes about Real Trees limiting the ability of the industry to affect the sales of Real Trees in the marketplace.

The NCTA's Christmas Tree Checkoff study blog post concluded:

Given this continued erosion of the market share of farm-grown Christmas Trees, an industry task force is being formed to study the possibility of a federal marketing order that could establish a nationwide checkoff designed to support expanded promotion, marketing and research projects. [Christmas Tree Checkoff Study, 3/3/08]

The Program Is Similar To Other USDA Programs Meant To Promote Agricultural Industries

Congressional Resource Center: Programs Collect Assessments from 18 Commodities. In an October 2008 report to the Congress, Geoffrey Becker, a Congressional Research Service specialist in Agricultural Policy, detailed the 18 product and farm promotion or “check-off” programs that collect assessment for advertising. He found:

Check-off programs, particularly at the state and regional levels, have existed for many decades. Interest in more federally mandated programs has increased over the past several decades, as commodity groups have sought new ways to support their products. Such groups view the programs as economically beneficial farmer self-help activities requiring minimal federal funding. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has some administrative and oversight responsibilities, but the producer-contributor boards that run the programs must reimburse AMS for such costs.

Congressionally authorized programs now collect assessments for 18 commodities (with the year they began, and collections for the most recent year reported): beef (1986; $79.8 million), blueberries (2000; $1.9 million), cotton (1966; $66.6 million), dairy products (1984; $281.2 million), eggs (1976; $21 million), fluid milk (1993; $107.8 million), Hass avocados (2002; $24.2 million), honey (1987; $3.8 million), lamb (2002; $2.3 million), mangos (2005; $3.9 million estimated), mushrooms (1993; $2.6 million), peanuts (1999; $5.7 million), popcorn (1997; $600,000), pork (1986; $65.4 million), potatoes (1972; $10.7 million), sorghum (2008; $12-$16 million projected), soybeans (1991; $89.5 million), and watermelons (1990; $1.6 million). Among other check-offs that have been authorized but either not yet implemented, or terminated by producers in referenda, are canola and rapeseed, wheat, flowers, kiwifruit, limes, and pecans. [Congressional Research Service, 10/20/08]

USDA: The Dairy Industry Needed “Generic Advertising” To Reduce Surpluses and Increase Consumption. In the May-August 1998 edition of the USDA's FoodReview, an article detailed the Dairy Act and the Fluid Milk act, which both created check-off programs funded by mandatory assessments that paid for generic advertising “in order to reduce surpluses and increase the consumption of dairy.” A study detailed in the article found that in the 12 year period after the Dairy Act passed:

The additional advertising expenditures contributed to an estimated 17-billion pound increase in fluid milk sales (about 6 percent of total sales)...(A gallon of milk weighs approximately 8.6 pounds.)


Generic advertising under the Dairy Act increased total U.S. retail cheese consumption by approximately 562 million pounds, or about 2 percent of total sales, from September 1984 to September 1996. [FoodReview, May-August 1998]

Journal of Cotton Science Article Finds Cotton Check-off Program Helpful For Both Growers And Importers. In a 2011 article published in The Journal of Cotton Science, Oral Capps Jr. and Gary W. Williams, professors in the Agricultural Economics Department at Texas A&M University, researched the efficacy of the cotton check-off program and found:

The annual return to producers averaged $5.7 in benefit per dollar of cost and $14.4 per dollar of cost to importers over the 1986/87 to 2004/05 period of analysis. The higher importer BCR reflects gains not only from additional sales of cotton fiber textiles but also from the “spillover” effects on sales of man-made fiber textiles prompted by the cotton checkoff program. The results also show that U.S. taxpayers are better off because the cotton checkoff program tends to reduce government outlays directed to cotton farmers. [The Journal of Cotton Science, 2011]