A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 22, 2009
Christmas Tree Bill

A Christmas tree is often decorated with many ornaments; the base of the tree is often surrounded with Christmas gifts. A “Christmas tree bill” is a legislative bill that attracts many amendments or riders, some of which are not at all related to the bill’s original purpose. A “Christmas tree bill” is one with many “presents” (pork barrel spending) for many legislators.

Michigan Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg (1884-1951) used the term “Christmas tree” in April 1930 to described the “pork” that was being attached to a rivers and harbors legislation.


United States Senate - Glossary
“christmas tree” bill - Informal nomenclature for a bill on the Senate floor that attracts many, often unrelated, floor amendments. The amendments which adorn the bill may provide special benefits to various groups or interests. 

Wikipedia: Christmas tree bill
In the United States Congress, a Christmas tree bill is a political term referring to a bill that attracts many, often unrelated, floor amendments. A Christmas tree bill consists of many riders. The amendments which adorn the bill may provide special benefits to various groups or interests. The term refers to the proposed legislation being subject to having each member of Congress hang their own amendment on it.

Overview
The traditional Christmas tree bill begins as a minor bill that passes the House. Senators are not limited by the germaneness rule present in the House and are able to add unrelated amendments to the House bill to provide benefits to special interest groups and campaign contributors. Usually the amendments provide tax benefits or favorable trade treatments. Many Christmas tree bills are enacted in the crush of legislation as Congress prepares to adjourn for the Christmas holidays. These bills usually have the effect of reducing the amount of tax revenue collected by the federal government.

It is unclear when the expression “Christmas tree bill” was coined and by whom, but in 1956 Time Magazine published an article entitled “The Christmas Tree Bill”. The story was about a farm bill to which more than one hundred amendments were introduced. Clinton Anderson, a Democratic Senator from New Mexico is quoted in the article saying, “This bill gets more and more like a Christmas tree; there’s something on it for nearly everyone.” Louisiana Senator Russell B. Long, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1965 until 1981, has claimed that he was the creator of the Christmas tree bill. In 1966, the House passed House Resolution 13103, the foreign investors tax act, a bill was designed to reduce the complexity and confusion facing the foreign investor. It was intended to encourage foreign investment in the United States. By the time the bill was enacted by the Senate, it included provisions that helped the mineral ore industry, large investors, hearse owners, and Scotch whiskey importers. Chairman Long also was able to include a one-dollar income tax check off to assist presidential campaigns, a proposal he had championed for a number of years. Another controversial issue amended to the bill was a tax break for doctors, lawyers, and other high-paid professionals who wanted to set aside money for their retirements.

The House Ways and Means Committee initially threatened not to bring the bill to a conference committee because the Senate had amended the bill too heavily. With the addition of the retirement provision, the bill became more popular in the House because that chamber had passed the provision earlier in the year only to see it defeated by the Senate. The conference committee reduced some of the tax breaks in the bill. It then went to a House floor vote under a closed rule. House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, insisted that tax bills be debated under closed rules to keep them from being amended on the floor. The House eventually approved the first Christmas tree bill.

The traditional Christmas tree bill was expanded during the 1980s. Instead of amending tax bills, Members of Congress attached special-interest amendments to huge omnibus bills in order to keep them from attracting too much public attention. Continuing resolutions, the emergency spending bills enacted to keep the government operating without a budget, became a favored target. Some of these items were disguised to further keep them from public view. One provision included in the 1986 Tax Reform Act granted a tax exemption to a single company identified in the bill as a “corporation incorporated on June 13, 1917, which has its principal place of business in Bartlesville, Oklahoma” (Phillips Petroleum).

Christmas tree bills tend to split Congress by houses rather than by party. In 1983, Congress debated the Surface Transportation Technical Corrections Act. The bill started out as an ordinary piece of legislation to provide emergency highway money for states suffering flood damage. The House and Senate added projects worth $140 million including projects favored by Speaker Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts. Republicans also added projects to the bill. Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, angered at the concessions granted to the trucking industry, worked to block the bill’s final action in the Senate. The bill died under the weight of all of the gifts.

The 1995 District of Columbia budget bill was stalled in Congress for several months threatening to shutdown city services. Senators had added a number of unrelated amendments to the spending bill. These amendments would have created an African American museum on the Mall in Washington, earmarked money to Haiti, and dealt with health care fraud. The Senate amendments were removed from the bill during negotiations in the conference committee and the bill was signed hours before the fiscal year started.

Christmas tree bills challenge the President who is limited to either signing such bills or vetoing entire bills. The Constitution prohibits the President from vetoing just those provisions he does not like.

Google Books
Hatchet Jobs and Hardball:
The Oxford dictionary of American political slang

By Grant Barrett
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
2004
Pg. 80:
Christmas tree n. a bill or piece of legislation which includes many (unrelated or excessive) special provisions. often attrib. Also Christmas tree bill.
1982 Globe and Mail (Toronto, Can.)(Apr. 2) B3:
“As much as I would like to see this legislation, it’s not going to happen in a Christmas tree fashion,” Senator Lugar said, adding he would prefer to have his bill die than be loaded with amendments.
1987 San Francisco Chronicle (June 25) 8:
“This is a Christmas tree bill...Over and over again...it takes a good issue but provides a solution that goes beyond a reasonable solution.”
2004 St. Paul Pioneer Press (Feb. 1) 1A:
They are more likely to turn appropriations measures intoi “Christmas tree bills” by adding unrelated projects into giant spending bills.

Wikipedia: Arthur Vandenberg
Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg (March 22, 1884– April 18, 1951) was a Republican Senator from the U.S. state of Michigan who participated in the creation of the United Nations.

13 April 1930, New York (NY) Times, “Assails Project for Erie Canal: Senator Vandenberg Tells Hoover It Is Plot to Kill St. Lawrence Seaway,” pg. 23:
“It is simply impossible for those of us who come from the Great Lakes sector to surrender the St. Lawrence seaway to any such obnoxious, indefensible Christmas-tree ideal. It remains to be seen whether this tentative rivers and harbors bill is sufficiently well greased so that it can slide through regardless of opposition.

But at any rate the opposition will not surrender without a fight which will be reminiscent of those of other days when pork barrel legislation of this type was effectually discouraged.”

29 April 1930, New York (NY) Times, pg. 25:
VANDENBERG ASSAILS
ERIE CANAL PROJECT
Senator Asserts Hoover Would
Not Sign House Rivers and
Harbors Bill

WASHINGTON, April 28.—Senator Vandenberg of Michigan today declared that the river and harbors bill as passed last week by the House would not be approved by president Hoover and that many of its projects must be eliminated to win his signature. He especially attacked the Erie and Illinois canal projects.

“I do not believe,” said Senator Vandenberg, “that the Senate will approve the fat rivers and harbors bill in any such form as it was jammed through the House at a single high-pressure sitting. There are too many suspicious presents on the Christmas tree. The bill must be debunked.”

Google Books
14 May 1930, Owosso (MI) Argus-Press, pg. 2, col. 1:
RIVERS AND HARBORS
BILL TO BE FOUGHT
Senator Vandenberg Says
That Measure is a Real
“Christmas Tree”

“SOME LONG TALKING”
BY MARGUERITE YOUNG
(Associated Press Staff Writer)
Washington, May 14.—(AP)—Threats of a filibuster in the Senate against the $110,535,027 House rivers and harbors bill were encountered today with warnings that the House would keep Congress in session this summer until the controversial measure is enacted.

Reasonable Deduction
Representative Tilson of Connecticut, the Republican leader in the House, conceded that the report of a move to keep Congress going until the bill is passed “is a very reasonable deduction.”

Senator Vandenberg, Republican, Michigan, who is fighting a provision for the federal government to take over the Erie Canal in New York State, reiterated that there would be “some long talking in the Senate” before “this Christmas tree bill” got through.

1 June 1930, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, pg. 13, col. 1:
SENATOR FIGHTS
“CHRISTMAS TREE”
“Pork Barrel’ Features of
Measure Assailed; Good
Points Win Votes.

BY WALKER S. BUEL.
(...)
Senator Vandenberg describes it as a “Christmas tree” bill, with everybody rushing to get a “present,” before Congress adjourns.

2 June 1930 Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, editorial, pg. 12, col. 2:
He calls the rivers and harbors measure a “Christmas tree bill.” There’s a present for everybody on it and that is why so few of the Senators are moved to see its evils.

The indictment that Senator Vandenberg draws against the bill is convincing.

24 July 1946, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “The House and Atomic Energy Control,” pg. A4:
Before passing the Senate’s McMahon bill for domestic control of atomic energy, the House hung it with amendments like a Christmas tree, adding a little something to please everyone, and in the total effect pleasing very few, probably not even the armed forces which are embarrassingly favored with a virtual dictator-...

Google News Archive
21 April 1951, Lodi (CA) News-Sentinel, “Rinn Cities League Record In Getting Tax Money Aid,” pg. 3, col. 5:
The so called “Christmas Tree Bill,” under which $90,000,000 in surplus state income tax revenue accumulated during the war years was apportioned to the cities, was initiated by the league.

Time magazine
THE CONGRESS: The Christmas Tree Bill
Monday, Mar. 26, 1956
For 18 days U.S. Senators had wrangled about the farm bill, introducing more than a hundred amendments, rejecting 31 and adopting 21. At the end of last week, with some 60 amendments to go, New Mexico’s Democratic Senator Clinton P. Anderson looked at the result and said: “This bill gets more and more like a Christmas tree; there’s something on it for nearly everyone.”

Google Books
The Hodge Scandal
By George Thiem
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
1963
Pg. 134:
...appropriation for this and other private clubs had been lumped together in a measure that became known in the Illinois General Assembly as the “Christmas tree” bill.

Google Books
The politics of state school support California as a case study, 1919-1960
By John David Phillips
Thesis/dissertation
1965
Pg. 405:
The lawmakers then over-rode the governor’s veto to enact a piece of pork-barrel legislation known as the “Christmas Tree Bill” (AB 60).

Google Books
Safire’s Political Dictionary
By William Safire
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
2008
Pg. 120:
Christmas tree bill Proposed legislation likely to pass that is then festooned with amendments not germane to its purpose.

The New York Times in 1967 deplored the attempts by protectionists “to tack a series of riders sought by demoestic industry onto the Administration’s proposals for higher old-age benefits. Their hope is that Congress will give its approval to the entire “Christmas tree” package. ... The only sure way to stop the Christmas-tree bill is to chop it down before it is planted.” That was a misunderstanding of “package”; a PACKAGE DEAL is the result of compromise; this is more of an abuse of RIDER amendments.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Tuesday, December 22, 2009 • Permalink