You've probably heard of a Christmas tree bill but you are not sure exactly what it is. This is how it works.
Traditionally, Congress celebrates Christmas two months before the rest of the country, by passing out presents to its constituents in the closing weeks of its fall session. This is a time when everyone is anxious to get home, and no one is paying too much attention to what someone wants to add on to a bill. The wiser senators and representatives always wait until the last minute before they add their own decorations, hoping no one will challenge them in debate.
Let us say Rep. Goodfeelin proposes a bill to make Columbus an honorary citizen of this country because he discovered America.
Rep. Glucose rises to his feet and says, "I am in full agreement with this bill which honors one of the greatest men in history, and I wish to propose just an amendment. To show our appreciation for everything Columbus has done, we vote $6 billion for the building of a new nuclear aircraft carrier to be called the 'Santa Maria.'"
Rep. Hogtippe says, "I will accept the amendment, but it seems to me that we could do this explorer greater honor if we lowered the present gains tax to 25 percent, so business will have an incentive to invest in this great continent that Columbus opened up to Western civilization."
"Are you proposing this in the form of amendment?"
"Mr. Speaker," a congressman from Texas says, "when we speak of Columbus, we must not forget some other great explorers. I am talking of the men who drill for oil and gas and who are risking their lives and fortunes to find new sources of energy. I would like to add an amendment to the Columbus bill taking all restrictions off the price of crude oil and gas, so that our modern-day explorers can make this country the great industrail empire Columbus dreamed it would someday be."
"Are there any other amendments?"
"Mr. Speaker, as you know I come from the state of Ohio. Our capital is named after this great man. The Ohio State football team plays all its home games there. I would like to offer my own amendment in keeping with the spirit of this excellent bill. My amendment calls for immediate tariffs on imported steel, as well as automobiles and soybeans. We cannot compete in the marketplace when Europe and Japan are constantly underpricing our product. If Columbus were alive he would be the first to criticize this unfair competition."
"Are there any seconds?"
"I second the motion, Mr. Speaker, and wish to add a amendment of my own. The EPA has just ruled that the Spangle Hangar Co., which is in my district, must either clean up the pollution in the Spangle River or close down. My amendment asks that the Spangle Hangar Co. be given an extension of 20 years to comply with this order."
"What has this got to do with Columbus?"
If the Spangle Hangar Co. has to shut down, 34 Italian-Amerians will lose their jobs."
"That puts a different light on things. It's getting late. Are there any more amendments?"
"Mr. Speaker, I have one. My amendment would raise the pension of all representatives and senators by $100,000 a year or the cost of Columbus' trip to America, whichever is greater."
"All those in favor say 'Aye.'"
"All those against?"
"The 'ayes' have it. Making Columbus a citizen is one bill that even the president wouldn't dare veto."