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The USDA-Approved Christmas Tree Cartel

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

President Barack Obama is not a Muslim; he is not foreign-born; and he’s not taxing Christmas!

Glad we cleared that up.

The president is, however, taxing Christmas trees. Or, at least, his Department of Agriculture was . . . until the public found out about it.

That’s when Matt Lehrich, a White House spokesman, announced, “USDA is going to delay implementation and revisit this action.”

Now, like so many other issues, including whether to permit the Keystone XL oil pipeline to be built, a final decision will wait until after the 2012 election. It makes the election sort of a grab bag surprise. Reminiscent of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s credo for passing the health care legislation: First, re-elect Obama; then, find out what he will do.

Yet, what is there to revisit? The policy is clear enough. The U.S. Department of Agriculture hatched a plan, along with some of the tall timbers in the freshly-cut Christmas Tree biz, to impose a 15-cent fee (did someone call it a “tax”?) on every fresh-cut Christmas tree produced or imported by businesses selling or importing at least 500 trees a year, so that a new federal Christmas Tree Promotion Board could confiscate enough dough to fund an advertising campaign promoting “real” Christmas trees over artificial trees.

Some may wish to portray Obama as simply attacking Christmas. He’s not. This is, instead, a good old-fashioned Washington-style multi-faceted attack on common sense.

Not that for decades millions of Americans haven’t hungered for a federal Christmas Tree Promotion Board, mind you.

The Obama Administration balks at the term “tax,” by the way. An Agriculture Department spokesman declared the 15-cent per tree fee was decidedly “not a tax.”

“I can tell you unequivocally that the Obama administration is not taxing Christmas trees,” asserted White House spokesman Lehrich. “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.”

Still, a doubter, one Jim Harper of the Cato Institute, had to get hyper-technical. He floated a question, and provided the answer: “Do Christmas tree farmers go to jail if they refuse to pay? Yes. It’s a tax.”

Some sticklers for adherence to our relic of a Constitution might wonder how the USDA has the power to impose a tax. That’s Congress’s prerogative. But Congress is so quick to hand its powers off to the executive that USDA officials may have been merely driving by the capitol when a document granting them to power to levy taxes on whole industries floated in their window.

But is it really a tax when businesses are imposing it on themselves?

Well, it does stand to reason that imposing a fee upon oneself is not a tax. And we all do it, from time to time. I know I often charge myself a toll to walk from room to room in my house, always dutifully coughing up the required payment. I certainly do not consider it to be a tax, for heaven’s sake!

Moreover, even though the Christmas tree growers and importers and sellers all want the fee imposed on them by our federal government, the ones who do not support it refuse to shut up. Everyone agrees, except for those who don’t.

Not surprisingly, some in the industry have been trying to pool advertising money for years, but could not persuade enough businesses to voluntarily contribute, so they went to the federal government to get their way by force.

“If the large wholesale growers want it, fine,” Robert Childress of the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association argues, “but they can pay for it without reaching into the small growers’ pockets. I feel that marketing for my products is my responsibility, and I choose to rely on my efforts.”

But Mr. Childress may not understand that everybody’s doing it. The big milk and beef producers have been shaking down the little guys for years now. Does he also not see the dire emergency U.S. agriculture faces? The people of these United States seem to prefer artificial trees over real trees. While sales of “fresh” trees have fallen significantly over the last decade or so, artificial tree purchases have nearly doubled from 2003 to 2007.

This is renegade citizen decision-making devoid of any measure of control by experts in Washington. It must be stopped.

Just wait until after the next election: then we’ll see the real, freshly-elected Obama and not the current artificial fellow.

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