Hightower: Republicans Play Santa Claus

Yes, believe it or not, Santa Clause has already arrived this year -- not at your home, but up on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jolly old Saint Nick has arrived in the form of that budget bill the Republican congress has passed. While their bill is touted as a massive budget-cutter, Republican leaders have quietly filled it chock-full of special goodies for their big corporate funders. For example, one provision allows such coal mining conglomerates as Pittston, LTV and Allied Signal simply to cancel millions-of-dollars-a-year in pension payments they owe to America's hard-working coal miners. Merry Christmas, miners -- here's a lump of coal for your Christmas stockings! Then there's the special sugar plum Congress is delivering to British Petroleum. An amendment, literally written by BP's lobbyist, is tucked inside the bill allowing BP and others to export oil for the first time form Alaska's ecologically-fragile North Slope. And look what the international gold and silver-mining companies are getting! A gift-wrapped boondoggle letting them buy our public lands containing billions-of-dollars worth of precious metals. They have to pay "market value" for the land, but -- get this -- the bill decrees that market value is to be calculated "without regard to the [gold and silver] deposits in the land." As Democrat George Miller puts it, "This bill is a Christmas tree of gifts to special interests," noting that these giveaways could not have passed on their own merit. That's why each of them were handed-out in the back rooms of Congress -- no public notice, no debate and no vote. Santa is not the only one who should be making a list of who's been naughty and who's been nice this year. It's time to hold the Republican leadership accountable for their corrupt under-the-table gifts to corporate interests.

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