War on Christmas? Biden's Ag Sec Once Tried to Tax Christmas Trees

Then-agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack in 2014 / AP
December 24, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden's pick to lead the Department of Agriculture tried to put a tax on Christmas trees the last time he was in charge of the agency.

Tom Vilsack (D.), a former Iowa governor who was agriculture secretary when Biden was vice president, implemented a 15-cent tax on each live Christmas tree in the United States in 2011. His attempt ultimately fell short: Facing widespread criticism, the Obama administration paused the tax just one day after it went into effect and abandoned it altogether the following week.

Vilsack's agency said the Christmas-tree tax was intended to subsidize a $2 million advertising campaign to counter market trends that it claimed increasingly favored plastic Christmas trees over their live counterparts. It was also intended to fund research into growing trees that shed fewer needles.

Critics scoffed at the idea that a tax was needed to promote Christmas. Then-senator Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) called Vilsack's move "the stupidest tax of all time" and questioned the need for a government-backed advertising scheme for one of America's favorite Christmas symbols.

"Does anyone in America—anyone?—believe that Christmas trees have a bad image that needs taxpayer-subsidized improvement?" DeMint asked.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R., La.) said the tax was a "smack in the face" to all who celebrate Christmas.

"It is shocking that President Obama tried to sneak through this new tax on Christmas trees. He might have thought nobody would realize what he did, but I will fight to prevent President Obama from becoming the Grinch who taxed Christmas," Scalise said. "This new tax is a smack in the face to each and every American who celebrates Christmas."

The tax was implemented while the United States was crawling out of the Great Recession, imposing additional financial strain on the American people, David Addington of the Heritage Foundation noted.

"The economy is barely growing and 9 percent of the American people have no jobs," Addington wrote. "Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do?"

Since being selected for agriculture secretary earlier this month, Vilsack has yet to say whether he would attempt another Christmas tree tax under the Biden administration. The Biden transition team did not respond to the Washington Free Beacon's request for comment.

Published under: Biden Administration