By TIM MAK | 11/9/11 6:59 AM EST Updated: 11/9/11 7:48 PM EST
The Obama administration learned Wednesday that it is no fun being the town Grinch.
On Tuesday, the administration gave the evergreen light for a new fee of 15 cents on all Christmas trees. But after a day of media attention and widespread criticism, the Obama administration confirmed to POLITICO that they were looking to delay the implementation of the fee.
“USDA is going to delay implementation and revisit this action,” said Matt Lehrich, a White House spokesman, while denying that the fee was a tax.
“I can tell you unequivocally that the Obama Administration is not taxing Christmas trees. 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,” Lehrich said.
The new tax was meant to raise funds for an advertising campaign promoting the benefits of live trees, as opposed to artificial ones. The tax was expected to raise approximately $2 million, according to McClatchy News.
Conservatives had been in an uproar about the new tax.
“Does anyone in America – anyone? – believe that Christmas trees have a bad image that needs taxpayer-subsidized improvement?” wrote Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on his blog Wednesday. “All I want for Christmas is a free market.”
“The economy is barely growing and 9 percent of the American people have no jobs. Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do?” wrote David Addington of the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank.
A 12-member board would have been charged with directing the funds toward advertising and research ventures.
The industry was divided on the issue. Grower organizations in 19 states lit up at the prospect of the tax, while Christmas tree growers in Texas and Vermont generally opposed it, according to the McClatchy and the Chicago Tribune.
Indeed, of the 565 comments that were submitted to the Agriculture Department, 70 percent supported the proposal, and 26 percent opposed it.
Nationwide, there are about 12,000 commercial farms specializing in Christmas tree production, with an especially heavy concentration in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Fresh tree sales declined from 37 million in 1991 to 31 million in 2007, according to the Agriculture Department. Meanwhile, sales of artificial trees nearly doubled to 17.4 million between 2003 and 2007, according to McClatchy.
Alex Byers contributed to this report.