Republicans, Democrats Spar on Session’s Opening Day

Jan 8, 2018

At the capitol, state lawmakers gaveled in for their 2018 legislative session.

Majority Republicans are promising a pro-growth, low tax agenda and a balanced budget before they head home to face the voters.     

Minority Democrats are warning that Iowans are paying attention, after last year’s conservative program was signed into law.

Republicans started off the day with their traditional fundraising breakfast in downtown Des Moines, since they can’t raise money for their campaigns once the legislature convenes.       

“We are Republicans and we have the majority in the House and the majority in the Senate and a Republican governor,” said Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann to applause. "That's something to applaud about.”

Here we are today ready to write Chapter Two. -Sen. Maj. Leader Bill Dix

Kaufmann praised lawmakers for what many are calling last year’s historic session, which included rolling back collective bargaining for public employees, nullifying local minimum wage increases,  limiting medical malpractice lawsuits, expanding gun rights, and defunding Planned Parenthood.   

“So here we are today ready to write Chapter Two,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) in his opening day remarks to the Senate.  “The objective has always been the same, for more money to be kept by those who have earned it.”

To back up the GOP call for tax cuts, Senate President Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny) referred back to the 60’s and Democratic President John Kennedy.

Sen. President Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny)
Credit John Pemble/IPR

“He said it’s a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and revenues are too low,” Whitver said, “and the soundest way to raise revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now.”

That claim sent the top Democratic tax-writer in the Senate, Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque), straight to the Internet.

“His invoking JFK raised my interest and I immediately did some checking,” Jochum said.   

Jochum found that Kennedy did recommend cutting income tax rates.  However, back then the top individual rate was 91% and the top corporate rate was 52%, far higher than current federal tax rates.

Sen. Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) made her debut speech on the Senate floor as the new Minority leader.  

She said majority Republicans did a lot of bad things to good Iowans last year.

“Iowans want us to focus on issues that matter to their everyday lives and ditch the extreme policy agenda items that give our state a bad reputation,” Petersen said.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith (D-Marshalltown)
Credit John Pemble/IPR

Petersen criticized Republicans for leaving critical stakeholders out of their discussions on improving Iowa’s water quality, a top priority for both parties this year.  

Another top GOP item this year is boosting Iowa’s skilled  workforce.  

House Minotiry Leader Mark Smith (D-Marshalltown) said that won’t happen as long as Republicans continue to cut funding for higher education. 

“We can’t continue to make higher education unaffordable and out of reach for thousands of students,” Smith said.  

Smith blasted Republicans for what he called gross mismanagement of the state budget.

“That is absolutely background noise,” Kaufmann said at the fundraising breakfast.

As the session gets underway, Reynolds and lawmakers of both parties continue to hear from patients and providers unhappy with Iowa’s new privately-managed Medicaid program, and say they expect to see improvements before the session ends.  

The Senate can no longer be a sanctuary for predatory behavior. -Sen. Min. Leader Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines)

At an opening day news conference, Reynolds responded to a recent report that savings from the new system has come to about $47 million, about 80% less than what backers had promised.

“I think it's important that we put it in context,” Reynolds said.   “We're still talking about savings.”  

Governor Reynolds will deliver her first Condition of the State address Tuesday before a joint session of the Iowa House and Senate.  

As the session gets underway, the issue of sexual harassment looms in the background.   

Sen. Petersen had harsh words for Senate Republicans who were the target of a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement.   

“The internal investigation that was conducted following the verdict revealed that many staffers are still afraid to report harassment at the capitol,” Petersen said.  “That is unacceptable but it is not surprising when the only person fired in this whole scandal was the victim.

“The Senate can no longer be a sanctuary for predatory behavior,” Petersen concluded.

The Senate awaits recommendations on sexual harassment from Ambassador Mary Kramer, a former Senate President. 

Also, House and Senate Republicans report they have hired a new director of human resources to hear sexual harassment complaints. 

First day on the job for the new hire will be January 22nd.