Shut It Down – with Thursday, April 27th update

Is Congress about to shut down the Federal government on Friday?

Shut It Down

Federal funding expires Friday, April 28th at midnight. We’ve been in this situation almost every time since the 2013 shutdown, and even years before that. For the previous eight years, blame has been on Obama. According to some House and Senate Republicans, they stopped submitting any appropriation funding requests and arguing if they can’t get their voice heard, they wouldn’t participate at all. Many claimed to be waiting for a Republican Administration to rejoin the funding fights.

So, for at least the last 4 (but more like 6 to 8) years, Congress has been passing Continuing Resolutions (CRs) which fund the government “at current levels” that is really at about a 2011 funding levels. But this time, with a Republican controlled House, Senate, and Oval Office, the party of fiscal responsibility should lead us out of the Shutdown crisis era, giving us robust budgets with increase military spending and elimination unnecessary domestic programs. Right? Surely someone has been working on this?

Across the US, federal employees have been dusting off their shutdown procedure manuals – sending emails, reminders, and FQA’s about pay, hours, and more. Confidence among Agencies is thin at best. Members of Congress gave the shutdown a “fifty-fifty chance”, and even the President admitted he “didn’t know yet” if a budget has to include his border funding. With 5 working days left to go, hundreds of Congressional staffers cancelling weekend plans – I’ve outlined the 3 possible situations we will find ourselves in by Friday.

Option one, and most unlikely: A new budget passes.

With Congress back in Session on Monday, a full legislative week is plenty of time to develop a new spending bill, but it would be difficult to draft legislation that appeases the Freedom Caucus Members, border state Republicans, and Moderate Democrats – and of course Trump himself.

Let’s break it down in numbers:  With 5 current House vacancies, Republicans need 215 votes to pass anything out of the House. At 237 Republican Members, it’s not a slam dunk it appears to be. The House Freedom Caucus, which keeps it membership secret, is estimated to have anywhere between 30 and 40 members. Typically these Members have voted to cut government spending, opposing social domestic programs. In this CR, funding for welfare, Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood – essentially all Obama era funding levels. Of the 237 Republicans, passing these funding levels is likely to result in at least 23 Freedom Caucus members who vote no, fearing a yes vote makes them appear more liberal and weaker than their constituency will tolerate. Out of the Top 40 most conservative Members in the House, I will wager all who vote yes will have a primary challenger announce within 60 days.

The Second groups of concern are border-state Republicans who are, for the most part, against any increased funding for building a wall. A budget that appeases President Trump’s campaign promise to build a way is likely to lose a handful of Republicans in southern states – but almost guaranteed to lose the votes of moderate Republicans, aka the Tuesday Group (like Charlie Dent, Elise Stefanki, other Northeastern Republicans)  whose states and even districts voted for Hillary in the 2016 Presidential. Not only would a vote to pass a budget that includes border funding be a political nightmare for their press teams, it is easy for these Republicans to stick to their guns of fiscal responsibility and vote against this measure.

Moderate Democrats are in an equally difficult situation – but if House Republicans have anything to teach their minority counterparts – it’s a lot easier to message a NO vote when your party doesn’t control the White House. Moderate Democrats only account for maybe 10 to 20 members, but when pass/fail margins will  be this slim – pulling a Moderate Dem might prove easier than a Freedom Caucus Republican. Of course, Democrats will want to see funding for social programs and are likely to oppose a wall as well.

The Senate is less mysterious, needing 51 votes to pass, and it’s Members operate with more transparency. We can expect some Democratic procedural posturing on anything that come sup, but with Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp who face uphill 2018 elections, the bill likely faces an easier fight in the Upper Chamber, though squeak by with only one or two votes.

Option two, most likely: A short-term CR passes

This option doesn’t resolve the conflicts listed above, but it does make things more interesting. Pushing a CR by a week or two would signal House Leadership will eventually bring up a new funding bill … or it could signal House Leadership is stalling for time. A short term CR meets the definition of compromise – that no one will be completely happy with it. This option rocks the boat the least but would have the longest reaching ramifications on elections. A CR that extends much longer than two weeks could rightly be considered a failure of Republican House and Senate Leadership. While we can appreciate the time consuming effort it took from Paul Ryan to save Trump from an embarrassing defeat on the Health Care vote, many will be less sympathetic towards their Republican leaders for failing to get a new budget up and running.

This sort of political quagmire is what took John Boehner down and out – he put up a compromise budget at the death to his own political career avoiding an otherwise inevitable shutdown. It seems unlikely that new-ish Speaker Ryan and his leadership would be willing to fall on this sword.  Additionally, it’s always been difficult to gather what the public opinion is on CRs as it’s a wonky policy move that has no visible impact on the day-to-day life of an average citizen. But it has far reaching implications to our military – and to campaign donors and campaign opponents. A CR doesn’t make anyone happy.

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Stalling for time, in and of itself, doesn’t resolve any of the conflicts listed above. But politics is a shifting winds games, and it’s a tried and true strategy to try to wait out a bad vote. Waiting a week can often radically differ the outcome and perspective, allowing enough time for visits from the White House and Administration officials. More importantly, Republicans haven’t been ahead of this crisis – so a week or two stall gives Republicans the needed print and air time to message this effectively. Of course, it gives Democrats another week to punch a whole in their boat too.

My money is on a short term CR simply because it’s the path of least resistance for Republican Leadership right now. If you’ve heard your Members of Congress complain about the establishment – this is the textbook example. A new budgeting bill would be far better for keeping Republicans elected – but it’s proven too sticky for leadership to accomplish – and thus, forces a no win situation onto their Members. Politics!

Option three, wild card: A short-term CR passes both chambers, but is veto’d by the President.

It’s hard to say how likely this option is, but for now it’s as likely as any of the others. Senate and House Republicans, with the help of a few Moderate Democrats, could pass a slightly increased budget that avoids funding the wall and other controversial measures, and place it on the President’s desk with less than 24 hours to go before a shutdown is triggered. If that happens, watch for the House and Senate to adjourn and members to rush back home to their districts, leaving a giant turd in President Trump’s lap. It would force Trump to either single handedly shut the government down and call back all 535 Members of Congress, or he will forced to sign a budget that is lacking a vast majority of his campaign promises, and his 100 day mark comes to pass with honestly no major accomplishment to speak of. To the President’s record – he’s eaten more campaign promises before his 100 day mark than just about any other president without too much ill effect (besides declining poll numbers). Would the wall be any different to his base, if he would kick that can down the road with Health Care? Probably not.

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But more importantly that Congress pulling the rug out from President Trump’s campaign platform is the fact this bill would erode the fear of Trump on Capitol Hill. A veto by the President, if he gets a bill without his priorities, would  be most Trump-esq to reject outright a proposal he doesn’t like – consequences be damned. If anything else, I believe that’s a large reason why Trump’s base still supports him and expect from him. Trump’s largest asset in Congress is the fact he’s been immune the battles he has already lost – but he hasn’t been sololy responsible. That is, up until now. If a bill makes it to his desk before 11:59 Friday, Trump holds the ultimate responsibly.

Congress will be quick to learn if they can wrestle Trump under their control by using deadlines and forcing him uncomfortable political positions to get what they want. I’d bet Steven Bannon would encourage Trump to veto a bill he doesn’t like – as Bannon understands well the importance of keeping an element of fear among the rank and file. A  veto causes major headaches and complaints from Members, but it would keep them afraid and in line, and Trump as powerful as ever. If Bannon still holds the President’s ear, which many have argued his is losing influence, we will know by the week’s end. Should this situation arise, it will at least give us an indication if there is anything left of the Art of Deal.

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Update: We are now about 30 hours away from a shutdown. If you view http://repcloakroom.house.gov/  you’ll see that Government funding is not presently on the vote list, but listed under “possible consideration”. Friday is the likely day we can expect to see this.

Additionally, I’m hearing a one week CR – pushing the shutdown date to May 5th. One week doesn’t really change much and again has long term ramifications, especially on Military spending, but changes very little about the political landscape. Let’s wait to see what happens tomorrow, and watch to see how op eds and Press Shows start the Republican and Democratic spin to win.

 

Digit: Worth it or Worthless?

I’ve been using and recommending Digit for about a 6 months now. I was amazed at how quickly Digit money added up and I didn’t notice the missing $300 or so per month. I have Digit on a moderate aggressive setting, so it pulls semi regularly at $20 to $50 amounts throughout the month. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when Digit sent an email last week informing users it would place a $2.99 monthly service fee starting in June. Digit, after raking in $500,000,000 since their inception, saw they were sitting upon a Golden Goose. Since Digit never seemed to advertise and hopefully wasn’t selling my bank information, I assumed their revenue was built off the interest earned on the collective input of its users which seemed brilliant to me – I get a free service and a small incentive, while Digit’s employees do minimal work to keep me invested in a high interest account and split the profit. But then, Digit’s sales team killed their Golden Goose in a fit of miscalculated math I’m still trying to figure out.

TL;DR – don’t pay for service from Digit.

Let’s round to $3 for a monthly service fee. $3×12 = $36 per year, for the luxury of transferring my money from one account into the other. Before the service charge, Digit has an incentive that I’ve received interest over the course of quarterly periods, meaning I got a .20 bonus on whatever I’ve got in Digit four times a year. Digit announced it would also increase its saving bonus from .20 to .25 quarterly – a full 1% yearly rate – but that hasn’t been in place long enough to see the .05% increase for account holders.

To date, I’ve made about $2 in interest from Digit, probably less. Assuming that I’d make a whole $4 by the end of the year, I’ll have $32 less in my bank account than if I had done nothing once the service charge comes into play.

In order to break even using Digit once the service charge goes into effect, you need to have $3,600 in your account at all times (which is more than I have after 6 months of savings). That’s just to break even – where the service charge is covered by the interest. If you’d like to break even and then make the same 1% you would have under the old system? $7,200 in your Digit account, at all times, for a year.

I emailed Digit asking if they would be altering their 1% yearly plan and they emailed me back a four paragraph email and I’m quoting “Financial services in general is the worst, the whole industry is broken, and largely makes money by screwing their customers”. They didn’t answer my question, which I sent back again, asking if there was any intention of increasing the interest earned, which I doubt. Their FQA offered me links to Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and other large financial services that recently have engaged in fucking over their customer base. I will grant you this – Wells Fargo secretly screwed over a lot of people. Digit is different because it has openly informed me how it would like to screw me over, given me 100 days to get out of it, and assumes I won’t figure it out. Thank you Digit for the heads up.

If Digit collected 1% on the 500,000,000 (half a billion as they put it), they have earned $5,000,000 aka 5 million, per year. Sure, a fair amount goes back to its consumer base but that’s the (former) brilliance of Digit – my 1% cut was a few dollars. I didn’t sign up for Digit because of the 1% interest return – I didn’t even know about it until after my first 3 months – I signed up for the automatic savings. Digit is not my retirement account where I will come to depend on the compounding interest. Digit was building my “rainy day” funds. Digit could have kept all the interest from my account, and frankly I would have been just fine. My intentional use of Digit was to save and pull money as trips, events, and as life required. It was the buffer between my actual savings account and my checking. Digit grossly missed the mark on how its users view Digit assuming we will pay a monthly service charge.

If you’d like to have 1% savings account – I’d recommend opening an account with Ally bank. No service charge, while building credit and reputation with a bank that has no ATM fees. If you opt for the savings account, you are limited to 6 withdrawals/deposits per month so you’d need to likely do one or two large month deposits. Without Digit, I haven’t found an app that automatically saves money for me but I also haven’t looked that hard. I already use a system that “rolls up” my purchases to the even dollar amount, and transfers the difference into my savings.

Here’s another way I can replace Digit – transferring my money by myself. For free.

How To Survive On Your Staff Assistant Salary

Too many smart, capable, and valued public servants come and go in Washington D.C. before their careers have even begun. “It’s too expensive to live here” they lament, usually about two months before they leave DC forever. The only way to live in DC on your salary is to making lunch, not having cable, and ride a bike.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Your Staff Assistant job pays $30,000 if you are luckier than other. After taxes, you are looking at around $23,000. You have a decent place to live, with roommates, for $800 a month, $50 for utilities. Of your $23,000, you spend $10,200 on rent to literally live.  This leaves you with $12,800 – which, at first, sounds like enough. Start by removing $1800 for lunches at work for the year, double that for the cost of dinner at $3600 since you spend at least $30 a plate, a plane ticket home at Christmas is about $400, clothing purchases total $300 for the year, a gym membership at $25 a month, $60 a month allotment for alcohol at bars, an Uber home one a week at $10 a ride, and groceries at $100 a month to include every breakfast, coffee, and snack ever for the year. That’s somewhat reasonable budget with nothing out of the normal.

If this is your budget, you’ve spent $8,800 and have $4,000 left for the entire year. If you move and needs first month rent plus a deposit – there goes $2,000. I didn’t count every dinner you eat for the year. I didn’t include concerts, trips, brunches, or any of the decent things that make life fun in D.C. I have not accounted for how you commute to work (hopefully your employer pays metro expenses but many don’t.) You haven’t saved any money for retirement or a down payment on a house, and most importantly – all of this is to assume you have no student loans, no debt, no car payments, no medical issues, no children, no family who needs a little help, nothing.

If this is your budget (or you aren’t sure because you don’t keep a detailed budget), then you need help. Trust me that salary raises and bonuses will come in time, but you don’t have the luxury of waiting right now. If you want to stay in Washington DC – here’s how you survive on your Staff Assistant Salary.  

  • Stop buying lunch. If you buy lunch between one and five days a week at work – stop immediately. First thing to know is that cafeterias are designed to rip you off. A sandwich will cost between $6 to $9. The buffet options, priced by weight are easily $12. Drink options are upwards of $2 dollars – bottled options are even more. Recently, I paid $2.40 for a cup of coffee and was outraged because I am aware the average cup of coffee I make at home is .16 cents.

Let’s say you spent $7.50 a day for lunch – a sandwich, soda, and chips at a pretty good deal. $37.50 per week, $150 a month, $1800 a year – or equal to a month’s rent, utilities, and extra.

Stop making excuses about “not having enough time” or not knowing how to cook. Making lunches takes me 2 to 3 hours on Sunday. It’s not the most fun thing I do in my week, but it’s the thing I value the most come noon Monday. I’ve made lunches with friends who have new ideas and are willing to split the cost and time. Unless you are making literally millions of dollars a year, convenience does not save you money. Paying for something you can do yourself is a tax on your laziness.

Too many people make the mistake of associating making lunch = super healthy salad. And when super healthy salad lunch fails to satisfy, they go running back to that Mac and Cheese downstairs. Do not make super healthy lunches to start – make things you want to eat. Chicken Enchiladas, Pot Roast, or this fancy Spinach Pasta with Feta are awesome options. Use crock pots, baking sheets, and grills. Take something boxed, and add in fresh veggies and chicken, there you go. This is not as hard as your lazy brain wants you to think it. You wanted to know how to survive and thrive in DC – this is honestly the secret.

But but – you cry – I won’t really save $1800 a month because I have to grocery shopping to make my meals! If I save any money at all, it won’t be anywhere close to $1800. Well naysayer, I have some handy math for you. Those chicken Enchiladas I mentioned; here is the real cost:

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I’m going to assume you already have this or olive oil)
  • 1 small white onion, peeled and diced (I bought 2 for dollar, so .50 cents)
  • 5 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (Pro Tip, buy from the meat counter, don’t get the prepacked stuff. Many times packaged is more expensive. Right now, my local Harris Teeter has $2.99 a pound so, I’m looking at $3.50)
  • salt and pepper (I’ll assume you have this)
  • 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles (the store brand is .59 cents)
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans or lentils, rinsed and drained ($1.00 for a can)
  • 8 large flour tortillas ($1.79 for 16, so .90 cents)
  • 3 cups Mexican-blend shredded cheese ( $2.99)
  • 1 batch red enchilada sauce, or 1 can store-bought enchilada sauce (Store brand is a $1.39)
  • (optional: 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro) (if you like cilantro, buy it fresh. The jars of spices will run you 5 dollars or more. Fresh, $1.49 for a bunch)

Our total cost for the ingredients used $12.36, plus a little tax. $12.36 is less than 2 days’ worth of lunches. You get 5 meals (or more) for the price of 1.5 lunches, plus you have left over ingredients to either make these again or turn it into something else. You get three and half meals essentially for free. In other terms, five meals divided by $12.36 is $2.47 per lunch, per day. Using the same model as before, just switching $2.47 per meal in place of $7.50, is $592.80 per year. You save $1207.20, per year. Guess what – still a month free of rent.

I have seen my interns, who were paid nothing, and my Staff Assistants who are paid slightly above nothing – buy coffee, breakfast, lunch, soda, and snack every day. God knows what they would do after work as well. Buying lunch every day because it’s easy, or because you can’t cook, is borrowing against how long you are going to last in this city. Worse, it’s stealing from your future down payment, your spouse, your children, your ability to travel – the list goes on. Stop robbing your future self. Make your own damn lunch.

  • Get rid of subscriptions. Drop cable and never, ever get it again. Tell your roommates you have to cancel it – even it is “just $20 a month, split between us”. Cable is evil, cable steals your time, and cable is full of hidden costs. There’s an installation cost, equipment rental fees, and so on. Pick one thing – Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and that’s your TV. Go to bar’s to watch the game, borrow your friend’s login – offer to pay them 5, 10 dollars to watch Game of Thrones. Share accounts with family and friends, but stop buying TV. We are the generation of the internet – you can figure out how to watch games on Twitter via a live stream, using an app to flick it onto your TV. $10 dollars for Netflix, $8 for Hulu, $15 for HBO, $35 for internet – that is $68 per month, $816 a year, or more than what I estimate a year of alcohol would cost.
  • Get a f*cking bike. Get a bike, any bike you like, and ride that bike into the ground. A bike will run you about $300 on Craigslist. Get a bike that feels comfortable for your height (your legs should extend almost all the way when pedaling but not all the way) as well as get something that makes you feel secure. If a road bike is too skinny for you, go for a mountain, and vice versa. I recommend avoiding beach cruisers because they are too heavy for hills, even though it can feel very sturdy and safe.

Maybe you are like me, who grew up where everyone had a car and we drove everywhere. I had a car at 16 and owned one until I moved to DC. I lived in large places with hills, where I could drive most places in 15 minutes but would easily take an hour on a bike. The opposite is the truth in DC. All of DC is accessible by bike, and 15 minutes by bike will take your further than a car. If you haven’t biked around DC, you can’t understand how small this place really is. The metro makes DC feel huge – because it takes an hour on Sundays to get from Union Station to DuPont. In actuality it is 3.2 miles, which will take you 32 minutes if you run a 10 minute mile. On a bike, about 15 minutes. I’ll pay someone to drive me if they can beat that time, but otherwise it’s a waste of money and time – two things I could use more of.

Every time you ride your bike – tell yourself you are saving $10. Go to work, bike to happy hour, go to the store, bike home – count that as saving yourself $40 dollar savings. A once a week Uber habit is a $560 expense for the year for the luxury of traveling a few miles. Owning a car is even worse. I can guarantee that a bike is the fastest way to get around Washington DC, even in the snow and cold. It will keep you healthy – so you can drop the gym membership as well. Bikes save you time. I could go on for days about bikes, but I’m confident that if you just borrow a bike, use a bike for a few days, you’ll convert. The bottom line is paying daily or weekly for transportation is luxury. Buying a cheap and sustainable way to move you around this city quickly is key to your success here.

So that’s how you stay in Washington D.C. on a staff assistant salary. You might have to work another job, you might need to cut costs even more, and your rent might be higher – I know about this struggle. But if you are doing these things, you are on the right path. And if you aren’t, well in less than two years you’ll probably tell somebody “this city is just too expensive”.