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What You Need to Know About Christmas Tree Legislation

by Countable | 12.25.17

Gridlock in Congress is nothing new, but sometimes all it takes is a little festive spirit to get lawmakers to work together. That’s where so-called "Christmas tree bills" come in, and while they can be useful, they’re also often abused, leaving constituents with no choice but to put their lawmakers on the “naughty list.”

What is a Christmas tree bill?

A Christmas tree bill is a piece of legislation that has had many amendments or riders attached to it, which are oftentimes unrelated to the bill’s original purpose. Those amendments may be added to attract the support of particular lawmakers, or provide something that an interest group has been lobbying for. That can make Christmas tree bills controversial depending on their contents, as some lawmakers and citizens may prefer to see an interest group get a lump of coal rather than a gift in a must-pass bill.

Christmas tree bills usually receive most of their "decorations" in the Senate, where lawmakers’ proposed amendments aren’t constrained by the germaneness rule that requires all amendments offered in the House to be related to the bill’s original purpose. Once they’ve been adorned with riders, Christmas tree bills frequently end up getting passed in December when Congress is rushing to finish its business before adjourning for the year prior to the start of the holiday season. Tax packages and budgets are frequently considered that time of year, so as a result they're frequently transformed into Christmas tree bills.

No one really knows when the term "Christmas tree bill" first came into use, but a 1956 Time Magazine article was titled “The Christmas Tree Bill” and discussed a farm bill that was the target of more than 100 amendments. A Democratic Senator from New Mexico, Clinton Anderson, remarked that “This bill gets more and more like a Christmas tree; there’s something on it for nearly everyone.”

Want to send your lawmakers a seasonal greeting or tell them why you hope they get their tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole? Use the “Take Action” button below!

— Eric Revell

(Photo by Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau / Creative Commons)

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(143)
  • Jim
    12/24/2016
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    One bill, one subject, no riders, in clean, clear, simple ENGLISH, posted on a special section of the Internet for at least 3 full days before it is voted on. That is what we need. No more Omnibus Bills, written so even a member of Congress cannot understand it with all sorts of hidden ad ons.

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  • Pam
    12/23/2016
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    Do you job and support legislation that is good for the majority of the people, not special interests. We are going to be watching your votes very carefully and will remember come Election Day.

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  • SirRobert
    12/24/2017
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    You mean like the tax scam!! If you are one of the middle class that think you won with this tax scam then you must have been sleeping! I watched the Senate hearing until 1:00a.m. Where Pence repeatedly hammered on the desk commanding the Sergeant of Arms to bring order in the gallery as one by one people were dragged from the chamber echoing “kill the bill, don’t kill us!” as smiling Republicans voted to pay off their campaign contributors. I listened to testimony citing that 35% of the corporate interests are held by foreign interests and that they will receive payoffs in 2019 of $5 BILLION AND BY 2027 that figure going abroad will be $40 BILLION annually, all to be paid from middle class taxes. All to be paid by our children and grandchildren! The passing of the Tax bill is troublesome and a clear example of the underlying problem with our government. Republicans are popping champagne corks now but come Election Day, they will be replaced. When the Democrats have control of the House and Senate they will pass bills that favor their party and so we are on this continual back and forth very divisive path of destruction. There should be an equal number of Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate with none of the Vice President tie breaking. Every bill should require a minimum of 60% majority of combined Republicans and Democrats to pass. Perhaps then we can unite America and stop the destruction!! IN THE MEANTIME, VOTE THE REPUBLICANS OUT OF OFFICE!!

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  • Max
    12/24/2016
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    These kinds of bills are bad for democracy - they take meaningful bills that benefit citizens and then tack on clauses or funding for special interests. When lawmakers try to oppose the bill because of such tacked on terms, they're criticized for holding up the entire bill, that they should just throw away their values and let it go since most of the bill is beneficial. This should not be our reality. When congress has to provide funding for Zika research and vaccinations but tack on PP defunding, that is simply wrong. If a transportation budget is proposed with money apportioned to build a specific city's football stadium, that's not right! Those are two completely different subjects and separate bills need to be passed for them. Our representatives should not have to decide whether or not they want to pass a bill just because it is 80% ok or if there is a glaring conflict. Bills should be focused on a specific area or subject, not a jumbled mess of special interests clauses.

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  • Lee
    12/24/2017
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    People, wise up! The Congress is corrupt on both sides of the aisle. They operate on the basis of who can give them more money to stay in power. Is a perversive and vicious circle. Special interests are the culprit. Democrats/Republicans do things quietly behind our backs to pass their pet projects at the expense of the Taxpayers and we never know. The good example is when we found out that the Congress paid millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment or misconduct by members of Congress. The key is Term Limits! No more than 4 terms for the House and 2 for the Senate.

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  • Elizabeth
    12/24/2016
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    No bill should have amendments or riders attached that do not pertain to the original purpose or intent of the bill. That is definitely a rip off for the American Public.

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  • Diane
    12/24/2017
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    No “Christmas Tree” bills. One topic/one bill.

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  • Mark
    12/24/2017
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    This is the best example of what’s wrong with Washington DC!! Drain The Swamp!!! These people play with OUR hard earned money they have taken from us!! This is our money !!!stop!! You people get rich of the backs of hard working tax paying people!! Government can’t give anyone anything they have not taken from someone else!!

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  • Louie
    12/24/2016
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    Please stop these ridiculous attempts to pass last minute laws by adding crap to them in order to get backing. It is a Terrible habit and should never have been allowed to begin with. This is just as bad as making laws thousands of pages long in able to hide other bits of legislation from the American people and other legislators. You might as well pass the bill so you can see what is in the bill. The American people have spoken. Might I suggest that you actually listen to them this time.

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  • Buzz
    12/24/2016
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    Riders are a crazy thing and were clearly created so that career politicians could have a backdoor to get pet projects and laws passed. Bills should not have riders period. One Bill, One Idea. Debate it and vote on the merits of each distinct idea. Thats what enables our country to make progress.

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  • SnowflakeBella
    12/24/2016
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    One bill, one subject, no riders

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  • Benwille
    12/24/2016
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    I don't mind amendments and additions to bills but I believe the senate should have the same rule as the House. All amendments, riders, etc need to be related to the bill. If someone wants something unrelated, create another bill for them. Don't try and pollute our already chaotic law making process.

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  • Robert
    12/24/2016
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    Please stop Christmas Tree Bills One topic per piece of legislation is appropriate.

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  • morganrehm
    12/24/2017
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    Do your job and vote with a conscience so as to what is best for the people. That is what you are elected for. Enough of the technicalities, loopholes, and omnibus legislation. We, as citizens and constituents, deserves transparency and the ability to understand what is being said in the bills without restrictive jargon. This has to end!!

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  • Janice
    12/24/2016
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    One bill, one subject, no riders/amendments in plain and simple English and in the best interest of the majority of people not special interest groups.

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  • Robert
    12/24/2016
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    I think one bill one subject and no riders should do the trick

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  • Narooz
    12/25/2016
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    Adding amendments and riders to a bill is only a benefit for sneaky special interest groups that can't get thier bills passed with their own bill. I say it's high time that legislation was passed to change this part of our system. In the name of a true democratic process no more additions to bills! Thank you

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  • Christine
    12/24/2017
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    One bill per topic. Nooooo Christmas Tree legislation for give aways to any state. That is wrong.

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  • James
    12/24/2017
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    “President Trump kicked off his holiday weekend at Mar-a-Lago Friday night at a dinner where he told friends, "You all just got a lot richer," referencing the sweeping tax overhaul he signed into law. Mr. Trump directed those comments to friends dining nearby at the exclusive club -- including to two friends at a table near the president's who described the remark to CBS News. as he began his final days of his first year in office in what has become known as the "Winter White House." The president has spent many weekends of his presidency so far at the "Winter White House," where initiation fees cost $200,000, annual dues cost $14,000, and some of the most affluent members of society have the opportunity to interact with the president in a setting while many Americans cannot.” The aforementioned quote is from CBS news and should enrage all decent hardworking Americans who live paycheck to paycheck.

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  • Dave
    12/24/2017
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    Christmas tree bill needs to be eliminated! We see the rush job the GOP done, now it needs to be repealed.

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