Flashback Friday: Christmas Tree Bill

When there’s something in a measure for nearly everyone

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree stands in front of the Capitol on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

For less astute observers of Capitol Hill, the term “Christmas tree bill” might conjure up festive images of twinkling lights and tinsel, candy canes and cookies. But in reality, the term refers to seasonal indulgence of a different sort. A Christmas tree bill is a piece of legislation, loaded with “ornaments” — unrelated, and often, excessive amendments.

The term is said to date back to a March 1956 Time magazine article on the debate over the farm bill. New Mexico Sen. Clinton P. Anderson, frustrated by the number of amendments added to the measure, was quoted as saying, “This bill gets more and more like a Christmas tree; there’s something on it for nearly everyone.”

Most recently, the term has been used to describe omnibus spending bills that often include pet projects of lawmakers that would be unlikely to pass on their own. The Boston Globe compared last year’s GOP tax overhaul to a Christmas tree, citing, among others, a provision to allow oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and tax exemptions aimed at specific industries.

And with seven fiscal 2019 spending bills yet to be completed, talk of Christmas tree bills is likely not going away.

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