The federal government is closing four departments today in the face of tough cuts from the sequester which took effect earlier this year.
Agencies furloughing workers include the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development, and the Office of Management and budget.
Such large departments haven’t been affected by budget issues in Washington since Bill Clinton was in office, when, famously, he and Congressional Republicans were at an impasse that lead to the government shutting down.
While these cuts were supposed to be equal across the federal government, there have been talks of bonuses for high ranking government officials at the end of the year, and the poor, children, and elderly are being affected by the $85 billion in cuts first.
While children are losing clothing for school in some states, and seniors depending on the government for meals are kept waiting, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill is set to make sure there are no bonuses this year. McCaskill has written a bill which would end bonuses for federal employees while the sequester is in effect, saying, “The idea that some of the highest paid federal government employees could be getting bonuses while others are being furloughed is outrageous.”
It’s not just the underprivileged who are facing adversity from the cuts, either.
Of the four departments shutting down from budget cuts, the IRS will furlough the most, letting its 90,000 person workforce go home for five days. This means taxpayers can expect delays in checking on their refunds, as help hotlines and offices will be closed nationwide.
The EPA claims it will be delayed in investigating environmental offenses, though, as it faces sending home 17,000 employees for a period of 10 days. Only White House appointees confirmed by the Senate are allowed to continue working at this time. However, Americans are mostly undecided on whether these cuts are good or bad.
A poll conducted by Gallup earlier this month found that Americans, even in the face of airline industry furloughs which led to delayed flights, are not particularly hostile towards the sequester. Asked if the sequester was good or bad for the country, 52 percent of those polled claimed they did not know enough to say, and another 17 percent claimed it was a good thing, with the remaining 30 percent declaring it bad.
This lack of a definitive response from the public has some questioning whether or not the threat of a sequester may not make it a successful tool for congressional motivation in the future, with Gallup noting, “Americans’ lack of outrage or discomfort may reveal that the threat of sequestration in the future will not prove to be an effective tool to motivate legislators to reach a budget compromise.”