It didn't take before the Obama administration backed down on a plan to tax Christmas trees this holiday season. Shortly after the USDA announced it had approved a 15-cent per tree fee, there was an uproar.
Critics jumped on the fee saying it would amount to a new tax because the growers would just pass the price increase along to consumers. Fox News reports that Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, dubbed the fee a "Grinch move" by the Obama administration.
Now the story is not that simple, insists the administration, which contends the fee is not a tax. Instead, it was a fee agreed to by the National Christmas Tree Association to launch an image campaign extolling the wonders of natural trees.
Late last night, however, the administration relented. The AP reports:
White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said the USDA would delay the program, but defended it, saying it was not a tax.
"I can tell you unequivocally that the Obama administration is not taxing Christmas trees," Lehrich said. "What's being talked about here is an industry group deciding to impose fees on itself to fund a promotional campaign."
That said, Lehrich added, "USDA is going to delay implementation and revisit this action."
Yesterday, the Christmas tree association issued a statement, saying the fee was "requested by the industry in 2009 and has gone through two industry-wide comment periods." They say that 90 percent of the comments indicated they were in favor of the program, which would have exempted organic farms and small growers.
As ABC News reports, this kind of program is not without precedent. One of the well-known initiatives paid for by a fee of this kind is the "Got Milk" campaign.
The fee was supposed to raise $2 million for the campaign, reports the Chicago Tribune. It was also intended to fight a decline in the sales of natural trees.
"Fresh-tree sales declined from 37 million in 1991 to 31 million in 2007, according to the USDA. Artificial tree sales, meanwhile, nearly doubled, to 17.4 million, from 2003 to 2007," the Tribune reports.