One of the nice parts of life at Árbol Squirrel is having a safe diet. We don’t rely entirely on the macadamia stash in Chef’s pantry, but the BPI main campus uses no chemical pesticides so Mrs. Squirrel and I know we can trust the food we gather for the family. Still, we’re already teaching Nancy and Michelle not to taste food that smells funny.

We hope President Obama learned that same lesson from his mom, because last night the House Republicans passed a very stinky pile. They agreed to extend the payroll tax cut holiday, but only after they stuffed the bill with poison pills:

* means-testing Medicare for seniors with incomes over $80,000
* blocking environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline extension
* stripping the EPA’s authority to regulate incinerators and boilers
* cutting $8 billion in preventative care and public health funding
* requiring mandatory drug testing to receive unemployment benefits
* requiring GED classes or employment training to receive unemployment benefits
* cutting unemployment benefits by 40 weeks in states with the highest unemployment rates
* requiring immigrants to provide their children’s social security numbers to receive benefits
* prohibiting the use of TANF electronic benefits cards in strip clubs (a non-problem)

Not surprisingly, President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. He should, although the bill will likely never get there … because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) threatened to shut down the government rather than pass this toxic waste.

The purpose of the payroll tax holiday is to give working Americans more money to spend, so businesses have customers, so businesses will hire more employees. To make that work without draining the Social Security trust fund, uncollected payroll taxes must be replaced from the general fund budget. That had been done with a small surtax on high incomes, and Democrats want to keep doing that. Republicans insist the rich aren’t rich enough – and that President Obama is still too popular with voters – so they’ll only extend the payroll tax cut if it is offset by spending cuts that will make it ineffective … and other provisions designed to embarrass the president.

Which is to say, both parties are equally at fault. Or at least that’s how the media have spun and will continue to spin it. As Paul Krugman wrote in July:

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.”

And that may be the most poisoned pill of all.

Good day and good nuts.

[Editor’s Note: The article has been updated to reflect the fact that the payroll tax holiday does not reduce the employer’s FICA contribution. We apologize for the error.]