11/11/2011 09:58 am ET | Updated Jan 11, 2012

"Christmas Tree Tax" Was Not a Tax, Not Obama's, But Local Farms Trying to Help Themselves

We've all seen "Got Milk," "Beef. It's What's for Dinner," and who could forget "The Incredible, Edible Egg"? With the rise of processed food, people had abandoned their milk for cola and eggs for Pop-Tarts. Christmas trees almost got a catchy slogan, but today the right-wing blogosphere is congratulating itself on having put a stop to it.

In recent years the sales of artificial Christmas trees have grown, as they are promoted as "safer" and sold in many box stores. Natural trees have no ads on TV, and conditions for farmers are worsening because of the recession. There are no major corporate players in the natural Christmas tree business. Like many small farmers, Christmas tree growers' business is local and their revenue is very seasonal. So this year, the Department of Agriculture passed a proposal that Christmas tree growers would pay a 15¢ fee for each tree sold. The money would be used to form a National Board, like those for milk, beef and 16 other industries, to research, promote and maintain the tree-growers' industry.

Within days, The Drudge Report, Fox and The Heritage Foundation started funneling anti-Obama sentiment toward the idea of another Obama attack on Christmas (remember the last one, Obamacare passing on Christmas Eve?); evidence that he not only wants to oppress us with taxes, but that he's Muslim and "hates Christians" too.

Firstly, this wasn't exactly a "tax" because it wasn't meant to raise government revenue. And it wasn't Obama's proposal. In fact it's a fee to be paid by growers, not sellers, who "requested" the idea in 2009. Plus, do the math. 15¢ on each Christmas tree -- which are around $40 these days -- is a tax of .375%. Not quite four-tenths of a percent. Sales tax in New York is nearly 9%. And even firehouses are forced to pay sales tax on Christmas tree fundraisers (pg. 19). So is Andrew Cuomo 24 times the Grinch that Obama is, or is this just hysteria?

In a statement, The National Christmas Tree Association asserted, "The program is not expected to have any impact on the final price consumers pay for their Christmas tree" (emphasis theirs). And before the trickle-down zealots chime in: even in the event that a cash-strapped grower raises the price of their trees, shouldn't the market allow them to find the 15¢ cheaper tree nearby? Would 15¢ prevent anyone for having a Christmas tree in their home? Not according to the growers, who feel it is small price to pay for the sustainability of their local farms.

As WPDE reporter Joel Allen so eloquently put it, while peeping out from behind a South Carolina spruce, "Christmas tree growers like to point out that if you buy an artificial tree, you're just supporting a manufacturer -- with its workers possibly in China. Whereas, if you buy a natural tree, you're supporting a family business." Yes, in a recession, Obama is being attacked for trying to promote family businesses.

The saddest part is that, under pressure from the right-wing blogosphere, the administration immediately abandoned the plan, leaving the conspiracy theorists to feel vindicated, and tree growers out in the cold.