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DeMint’s amendment to repeal check-offs – is he serious?

  • South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint recently jumped all over the proposed 15-cent per-fresh-cut Christmas-tree-sold check-off, calling it a 15-cent tax on Christmas trees that created a new government agency.
  • Apparently, no one told him that he was woefully misinformed, that the 15 cents is paid by the seller not the buyer, and that the program is administered by businesses within the christmas tree industry.
  • He didn't stop with Christmas trees either. On Nov. 16, DeMint entered an amendment in the Energy and Water Appropriations Act to repeal 20 other commodity check-off programs. Apparently, he's serious.

You can tell a lot about a man when he gets pushed into a corner. Does he come out fighting when he’s right? And conversely, does he come to you with hat-in-hand when he’s wrong?

We found out a lot about South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint this week after he submitted an amendment to Congress to terminate 20 commodity check-off programs. Yes, that’s correct, 20 commodity check-off programs.

If you recall, DeMint recently jumped all over the proposed 15-cent per-fresh-cut Christmas-tree-sold check-off. The check-off funds would have gone toward promotion, research, evaluation and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry’s position in the marketplace. Similar programs are in place for other commodities and are funded by commodity producers.

But somehow DeMint got it on the brain that the Obama administration had imposed a 15-cent tax on Christmas trees. He blogged, “The $2 million the Obama administration expects the tax to raise will not reduce the deficit or cover needed government services. Instead, it will serve as a marketing slush fund for the Christmas tree industry.”

He wasn’t through with his ill-informed rant. “The money will set up a brand new government agency called the Christmas Tree Promotion Board. The CTPB will use the $2 million to hire a staff – most likely the industry lobbyists who cooked up this scheme – and then run advertisements to enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry of the United States.”

The Obama administration promptly put the check-off approval on the back burner.

In the interests of one legislator watching the back of another, surely someone took Sen. DeMint aside for a little water cooler instruction after his tirade. Certainly they told him that the Christmas tree industry was paying for the check-off, not ordinary citizens. And that the Christmas tree industry needed the program, even approved it.

And so, it would follow that DeMint would then apologize to the Christmas tree industry for his failure to do his homework on the check-off.

“Excuse me, this is Jim DeMint. I am so sorry. I didn’t even place a phone call to your organization asking about this. If I had, I would have saved myself some embarrassment and your program as well.”

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. In what must be described as an act of defiance over criticism he received over the Christmas tree debacle, or worse, perhaps he still remains hopelessly uninformed, DeMint declared war on 20 other check-off programs, from avocados to cotton, with a proposed amendment in the Energy and Water Appropriations Act to repeal them all.

Hopefully, cooler-headed legislators will recognize the folly of DeMint’s amendment, and make sure it doesn’t go anywhere. We need mature, decisive action and due diligence to accomplish fiscal restraint in Washington, D.C., not congressmen who shoot first and ask questions later.  

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