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The return of an old Christmas tree fight

Two years ago, a ridiculous fight over an imaginary "Christmas tree tax" derailed a worthwhile idea. The second round of the fight is poised to begin.
Beach goers have their picture taken with a Christmas tree at Waikiki beach in Honolulu on December 25, 2013.
Beach goers have their picture taken with a Christmas tree at Waikiki beach in Honolulu on December 25, 2013.
There's an unfortunate pattern that emerges from time to time: a sensible policy measure will be considered, the right will misinterpret what the policy is, a deeply stupid controversy will ensue, and the policy itself will be shelved because of the inanity that often burdens our public discourse.
Consider, for example, a 2011 story involving Christmas trees. The industry, losing market share to artificial trees and foreign imports, eyed a national promotional campaign, similar to the programs that boosted the milk, cotton, and pork industries. Organizers launched the Christmas Tree Promotion, Research and Information Order, which included asking the Agriculture Department to approve a 15-cent fee, per tree, on domestic producers and importers.
No taxpayer money was involved, and the whole idea was requested by the industry, to benefit the industry, and to be paid for by the industry. The Agriculture Department solicited public feedback and then gave the industry the green light to proceed.
Within a week, right-wing activists had gone berserk, insisting the Obama administration wants to impose a new "tax" on Christmas trees. National Christmas Tree Association spokesman Rick Dungey tried to explain this "has absolutely nothing to do with Obama," and "it's not a tax," but it was too late -- the organized outrage spread and the measure was scrapped.
But here's the thing: the Christmas tree industry still likes the idea and still considers the promotional campaign important. It's not their fault conservative media lies derailed a worthwhile proposal, so they're hoping to give this another try.

Christmas tree farmers have renewed their push for the creation of a marketing and research program that conservative critics have dubbed a "Christmas tree tax." The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2011 moved to create a marketing and research program for Christmas trees that would have been similar to the "Got Milk?" or "Pork: The other white meat" campaigns. But the promotional push was put on hold amid an uproar from conservative groups and anti-tax advocates. Farmers haven't given up on the idea, and are now pushing to have the program authorized in the farm bill legislation that is being negotiated by the House and Senate.

Again, the campaign wouldn't cost taxpayers a penny -- the only reason the government is involved at all is that federal officials oversee USDA "check-off" programs -- and would presumably give U.S. tree farmers a boost.
The Heritage Foundation has said it will oppose the policy measure, citing "the principle of it."