Furlough Friday

Let’s hope you weren’t planning to do any significant business with the Internal Revenue Service (those scheming secular-socialist SOBs!), the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, or (much less likely) the Office of Management and Budget today. They are going to be operating on sort of a hibernation level today, with (mainly) political appointees watching for emergencies, thanks to the furloughing of 115,000 federal employees, the fruits of this year’s appropriations sequester. Get used to it, says WaPo’s Lisa Rein:

The closures, the first of several around summer holiday weekends and other days this fiscal year, were conceived as a way for furloughs to do the least damage to employees and the public. The Friday before Memorial Day is a vacation day for many, and the volume of calls for tax help, housing assistance or to report an environmental problem is relatively low, officials said.

If you happen to be one of those employees, of course, the impact is a little more significant, since you won’t be paid for this day off. Your services, and compensation for them, has been implicitly deemed wasteful and unnecessary. But since Congress could not actually identify the waste or define what is unnecessary, you get to become the symbolic examples of Big Government excess, whether you are a good, bad or indifferent public servant.

As the year drags on, we will almost certainly see the impact of these furloughs on economic growth, which won’t be massive, but will have a baleful effect on everyone nonetheless. And why is this happening? Well, we had to do something about those budget deficits (you know, the ones shrinking so rapidly that even deficit hawks are embarrassed to yell about them any more), and what began as a unimaginable (because it was so egregiously stupid) forcing device for congressional action became the path of least resistance.

Now this is very old news if you are, say, a Meals on Wheels beneficiary denied services, a parent of a child in Head Start who didn’t make the cut, someone trying to survive on a smaller unemployment check, or an employee of a government contractor who has made anticipatory furloughs or layoffs. But today they are joined by 115,000 fellow-citizens who can proudly say they’ve contributed to a symbolic victory over a largely imaginary enemy. Enjoy!

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.