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Christmas Tree Bill

Definition: A Christmas Tree bill is used to describe a bill that is one of the few legislative vehicles that might move and actually pass in Congress at a particular time (usually before the end of the year or a congressional recess) to which various and numerous Members of Congress try to attach their favored piece of legislation. These attached pieces of legislation are akin to ornaments on the Christmas tree.

Used in a sentence: “This bill gets more and more like a Christmas tree; there’s something on it for nearly everyone.” - Time

History: No one knows for sure when and where the expression was first used, but the above quote from a 1956 Time Magazine article is thought to be the first published use of the phrase. For 18 days, 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 the above quote.

What it Means: The phrase is used in two similar but still distinct ways. The first is focused more on logistics. Thousands of bills are introduced every session of Congress; far, far fewer pass. If a bill is moving through the legislative process, it may be one of the few things moving or the last thing moving before Congress adjourns (usually in December, hence the connection to Christmas). If you are a Member of Congress and you have something you want to pass, you try to attach it to that moving bill. You hang an ornament on the tree, so to speak. The other similar way the phrase is used still focuses on the amount of items added, but the intent is slightly different. Sometimes in order to get votes for a particular piece of legislation, leadership in Congress may be willing to add various Members of Congress’ pet legislation to a bill. Again, adding an ornament to the tree. The danger in both scenarios is that the tree becomes too heavy from all the ornaments and topples over leaving no tree and no ornaments. It is all part of the delicate legislative dance – a Nutcracker Suite perhaps?