A sign to inform the visitors that the National Gallery of Art is closed in Washington October 1, 2013. The U.S. government began a partial shutdown on Tuesday for the first time in 17 years, potentially putting up to 1 million workers on unpaid leave, closing national parks and stalling medical research projects. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
For the first time in 17 years, thousands of federal employees are going to work without pay, and thousands more are furloughed indefinitely.
Federal workers are feeling the effects of the first government shutdown in nearly two decades after Congress failed to reach a new budget agreement due to Republican opposition to President Obama's health care initiative.
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The absence of a new budget has precluded the government from spending money, forcing many government buildings to shut down. The legislative deadlock continued into Tuesday morning, as the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected a Republican-controlled House proposal to begin conference committee negotiations, which included whether to link federal funding to changes in the Affordable Care Act.
Despite stark Republican opposition to the health care law, the law officially went into effect today, enabling people to partake in the health insurance exchange.
Senate leaders say that they are willing to have a conference committee, but they will not have one while the government is shut down. They will also not allow Republicans to link government funding with changes in the health care law.
As a result, more than 800,000 federal workers are facing helpless uncertainty as government agencies are forced to shut down for an indefinite period of time. The shutdown precipitated the immediate furlough of about 400,000 civilian employees, according to The New York Times. President Obama signed legislation late Monday that ensured uniformed military members would continue to get paid.
Angry tourists are also caught in the crossfire because historic monuments in cities such as Washington D.C. and Philadelphia were shut down, such as the Washington Monument and the Liberty Bell. National museums, the National Zoo and national parks and memorials are also closed across the country. Employees of the National Parks Service are furloughed indefinitely.
As for who goes to work without pay and who is furloughed, the hardest hit federal agency was NASA, with 97 percent of employees furloughed. International Space Station scientists are forced to work without pay. The Environmental Protection Agency is also hit hard, with 94 percent of employees furloughed and superfund project managers working without pay. Additionally, 87 percent of Department of Commerce employees are furloughed and National Weather service meteorologists are required to go to work without pay. Prison guards, Border Patrol officers and prison guards are also required to work without pay.
Other departments furloughs are as follows, via The NY Times:
-Department of the Interior: 81 percent of over 72,000 employees furloughed; fish hatchery employees required to work
-Department of the Treasury: 80 percent of over 112,000 employees furloughed; money printers and engravers must work
-Department of Energy: 69 percent furloughed; nuclear submarine engineers required to work
-Department of Health and Human Services: 52 percent furloughed; National Institute of Health staff who work with lab animals required to work
-Department of Defense: 50 percent of 800,000 employees furloughed; military recruiters must go to work
-Department of Transportation: 33 percent furloughed; air traffic controllers must work
-Department of Social Security Administration: 29 percent furloughed; claims representatives must work
-Department of Justice: 15 percent furloughed; drug enforcement agents must work
-Department of Homeland Security: 14 percent furloughed; secret service agents must work
-Department of Veterans Affairs: 4 percent furloughed; V.A. hospital nurses required to work
As of now, workers are forced to comply with the effects of the shutdown, which so far has no sign of coming to an end. Democratic politicians are enraged that their Republican colleagues were the catalysts for the shutdown. Republicans will not accept the health care law--a law that was passed three years ago and was upheld by the Supreme Court--as is.
"The government is closed. . .because of the irrationality of what is going on on the other side of the Capitol," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said after the party-line vote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blamed the Democrats for the shutdown. He contested that they should consider the Republican proposals, which would include significant changes to the Affordable Care Act.
The acrimony in Congress has sent federal employees, and potentially the economy, into a tailspin.
"It does cast a very significant pall over America's credibility with our allies when this kind of thing happens," said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. "It's nonsensical. It's needless. It didn't have to happen."