Key Republican and Democratic lawmakers are offering starkly differing views on efforts to write a new state budget and end this year’s legislative session, differences that could stall the drive to adjournment.
Meeting with reporters Thursday, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, argued that legislative bargainers and the governor’s office are narrowing their differences concerning the size of the state’s budget. He’s optimistic about this year’s session ending next week.
“It’s a whole mess of issues coming together,” Paulsen said. “We have closed that gap and we also have more discussion ahead.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, doesn’t share Paulsen’s optimism. He warned that many Republicans are pushing to debate volatile social issues such as abortion, which he said could delay efforts to write a state budget.
“We’re a long way from getting done, and progress seems to be very, very slow,” said McCarthy, in a separate meeting with reporters. “The mood of our members is frustration right now.”
He added that “if this were a cross-country trip starting in Los Angeles and ending in New York, we’d still be in California.”
The session is set to end Tuesday.
Paulsen noted that seven spending measures that account for the bulk of the state’s budget have been shipped to House-Senate conference committees, where compromises can be bargained relatively quickly.
Republicans running the House have crafted a $6.06 billion state budget, while Democrats running the Senate have assembled a $6.3 billion budget. Gov. Terry Branstad’s budget calls for spending $6.24 billion.
Paulsen believes a final agreement will come next week. “I think we’re closer together,” he said.
McCarthy said the biggest differences are not between Republicans and Democrats, but among Republicans.
“I visited with some members of the governor’s office and they are still over $100 million apart between the governor and House Republicans on the education budget alone,” McCarthy said.
Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht was tight-lipped about the budget bargaining.
“Progress is still being made,” Albrecht said. “All sides are still at the table working toward a sustainable budget.”
McCarthy dismissed suggestions of hard work at the Legislature, noting that House Republicans canceled having floor debate on Thursday or Friday.
“My prediction is we’ll be debating women’s reproductive rights next week or the week after. It’s going to delay shutdown,” McCarthy said.
There is no statutory end to a legislative session, but lawmakers receive daily expense payments to help defray the cost of being in Des Moines for the session, and those expense payments will end next Tuesday.