One week from today, unless the budget issue is settled, approximately 2 percent of the nation's work force will begin a series of furloughs.

About 2.4 million federal workers, from Social Security clerks in Baltimore to Grand Canyon tour guides, would lose one, two or three days' pay because Congress and the White House couldn't come up with a budget for the fiscal year that starts Monday.

If the furloughs happen, most employees will be told to come in Monday.

Some will begin furloughs the next day. Most workers face 22 days of furloughs during the fiscal year. Some agencies believe they can get by with three days. Two small federal commissions have plans to furlough employees 255 of the next 260 workdays.

Budget negotiators who see the furloughs as part of the political bargaining process have lost sight of the financal and emotional costs to employees and to their districts back home.

Most government workers live and vote in such places as San Antonio; Gadsden, Ala.; Monroe, La.; and Chicago. Each federal furlough day will cost local communities $2 billion. Each furlough day here will mean a loss in income and spending power of $70 million. Each furlough day is a 20 percent pay cut for the employee for that week.

Federal workers are angry, hurt and scared by the furlough threat.

They know that the only reason they may be furloughed is that the politicians haven't done their work.

Many politicians appear willing to let government services slide and employees suffer to score budget points with other furlough-proof politicians.

The attitude that this is all a political game could backfire. There are 60 congressional districts with from 2,000 to 35,000 federal workers. They may decide to furlough some politicians come November.

Politicians who ignore the anger -- and potential clout -- of federal workers need to huddle with Washington area politicians who know the power of the civil servants.

Three of them -- Republican Reps. Stan Parris and Frank R. Wolf, both of Virginia, and Constance A. Morella of Maryland -- have promised to take the same pay cuts as their furloughed federal constituents. Parris wants members of Congress furloughed for every day federal employees go without pay.

In the meantime, some agencies plan to help furloughed employees by giving them official letters explaining to creditors that the sudden loss of income is temporary and not the employees' fault.

Washington-based Government Employees Insurance Co. says it will work with furloughed federal policyholders to modify their insurance premium payment schedules.

Other big area merchants may follow suit.

It is nice that many agencies, and places such as Geico, are doing what they can to help employees who may take pay cuts.

It is absolutely ridiculous that Congress and the White House have allowed their game of fiscal chicken to go on this long.