By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
Supporters of a national Christmas tree checkoff worry the White House has indefinitely blocked the program out of the fear of another negative backlash.
"We're very frustrated. We feel we're being mistreated," said Paul Schroeder, a Wisconsin farmer who chairs a committee supportive of the checkoff.
In November 2011, the USDA approved the program aimed at research and promotions, which would have raised about $2 million a year by collecting 15 cents per tree from growers.
Conservative bloggers and pundits immediately attacked the checkoff as an Obama administration "tax" on Christmas trees. The furor prompted the USDA to stay the regulation to give farmers and the public "an opportunity to become more familiar with the program."
Nearly a year and a half have now passed, but the checkoff remains in limbo despite outreach efforts, said Betty Malone, an Oregon farmer who headed a campaign to create the checkoff.
"We still can't have our program because the president would have some bad publicity?" she said. "We just think that's crazy."
As of deadline, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, which oversees checkoffs, or the White House official with whom checkoff supporters have communicated, could not be reached for comment.