Iowa House and Senate Republicans are not on the same page

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley (left) and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver speak to members of the media on March 14 (photos by Laura Belin)

If you didn’t know Iowa was in the eighth year of a Republican trifecta, you might be forgiven for thinking different parties controlled the state House and Senate after watching the past week’s action.

Dozens of bills approved by one chamber failed to clear the legislature’s second “funnel” deadline on March 15. While it’s typical for some legislation to die in committee after passing one chamber, the 2024 casualties include several high-profile bills.

The chambers remain far apart on education policy, with no agreement in sight on overhauling the Area Education Agencies, which is a top priority for Governor Kim Reynolds. The legislature is more than a month late to agree on state funding per pupil for K-12 schools, which by law should have happened by February 8 (30 days after Reynolds submitted her proposed budget). The Senate Education Committee did not even convene subcommittees on a few bills House Republicans strongly supported.

House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver struck an upbeat tone when speaking to journalists on March 14. Both emphasized their ongoing conversations and opportunities for Republicans to reach agreement in the coming weeks.

But it was clear that Grassley and Whitver have very different ideas about how the legislature should approach its work.


Citing the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, Erin Murphy reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on March 15 that the House has sent 141 bills to the Senate this year. Most of those did not win approval in a Senate committee, though Senate leaders have kept some eligible for debate by moving them to the “unfinished business” calendar.

As funnel week drew to a close, Grassley’s main message to reporters was that House Republicans had followed through on almost all of the plans they laid out before the session. “We passed almost every one of our priorities,” he said, noting that some of those bills had received bipartisan support.

Grassley indicated his team will be looking for opportunities to include certain policies in forthcoming legislation. House Republicans consider some bills “that we passed over early enough, that didn’t see the light of day, that we feel that they need to be continued as part of the ongoing conversations between the House and the Senate.”

There is plenty of precedent for that kind of horsetrading. Some provisions of House education bills that didn’t make it through the second funnel in 2023 were later attached to the wide-ranging Senate File 496, which Reynolds signed last May. In addition, the majority party routinely adds policy language to appropriations bills, which are not subject to funnel deadlines.

On the other hand, Senate Republicans don’t seem as interested in reviving “dead” bills to accommodate their counterparts.


Whitver was unusually motivated to shape the media narrative last week. Whereas Grassley often holds a weekly “gaggle” with credentialed journalists, the Senate majority leader had not met with statehouse reporters as a group all year, until he invited some to his office on March 14.

He began by emphasizing, “We had a very successful funnel week.” It was an odd thing to say, given how many newsworthy bills had just died in committee. But Whitver explained, “I think Iowa’s in a really good spot. And we don’t need that many bills, in my opinion, to make Iowa strong and to keep Iowa strong. And so we don’t need to pass 200 bills, 300 bills to keep Iowa strong. And so we’ve only passed 40-some, that’s fine with me.” From his perspective, “The bills that I think we need as a state are still alive,” including efforts to reform Area Education Agencies and accelerate tax cuts.

Asked about some of the House measures that Senate committees did not take up, Whitver said he didn’t want to speak about any specific bill.

But I would just say in general, we have more veteran members who’ve been here a while, that think the work that we’ve done over the last seven, eight years is paying off, will continue to pay off. And so they’re not as desperate to just change little things here and there in the law.

I’d say the House—they have newer members, and so they’re coming down with newer issues. And I respect that, and I get that. First year elected, want to start working on some issue.

But overall, big picture in Iowa, we’re in a great spot. We’re in a really good spot as a state. And we just don’t believe there’s that much we need to do to keep us in a great spot.

It’s true that more than two dozen of the 64 House Republicans were elected for the first time last cycle. But Whitver also has a lot of newbies in his caucus; more than a dozen of the 34 GOP senators are serving their first term.

In any event, Whitver returned to the point several minutes later, after noting that he’d had “great meetings” lately with Grassley and the governor.

We’ve done so many things over the last seven years, so many big things over the last seven years. Leading the country on a lot of these issues, that there’s not as many big issues out there.

And so, sometimes when there’s not a lot of big issues floating around, you see getting bogged down in issues that normally wouldn’t even be a big story. So—and that’s okay. But like I said, I don’t think we need to pass a lot.

Admittedly, some of the bills Senate committees killed last week could be seen as micromanaging: instructing the state Transportation Commission to prioritize widening U.S. Highway 30, or requiring the city of Des Moines to change its parking meters. Others were more far-reaching.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Whitver revive parts of the House wish list, especially if the lower chamber gives up ground on state budget targets, school funding, AEA changes, or tax cuts.

By the same token, negotiations may prompt Grassley to bring back some policies Senate Republicans approved this year.


It would be too unwieldy to cover every casualty of the second funnel. Even the comprehensive overviews in the Cedar Rapids Gazette and Iowa Capital Dispatch, which are well worth your time, didn’t list them all.

Here are some noteworthy bills that didn’t make the cut, or topics where House and Senate Republicans have yet to reach consensus.


The legislature is unlikely to adjourn without taking some action on Area Education Agencies. Whitver discounted the idea that the legislature might order a study over the interim and come back to address the issue next year. Grassley also indicated this is a major topic in his conversations with Senate leaders and Reynolds.

House members approved an AEA bill in late February. The Senate Education Committee didn’t take up House File 2612, but leaders moved it to the unfinished business calendar on March 14.

The Senate was scheduled to debate its own AEA bill (Senate File 2386) on March 5, but pulled the legislation with no explanation. Speaking to reporters, Whitver characterized the Senate proposal (also now designated “unfinished business”) as “vastly different” from from both the governor’s original proposal and the House-approved bill. But he also indicated senators haven’t finalized the text they will vote on.

Whitver is trying to keep language on teacher raises in the AEA bill, as Reynolds proposed. House leaders separated the issues, and passed a teacher pay bill with overwhelming bipartisan support.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, the House bill would leave more of the AEA structure intact than the governor’s bill, and would require school districts to use the AEAs for special education. Grassley told reporters, “We feel pretty strongly that whatever we do with the AEAs, we’ve been very clear in the House, we wanted to continue to provide certainty for special ed parents and students and school districts.”

House Republicans approved a 3 percent increase in the per-pupil state funding for K-12 schools. Senate Republicans haven’t approved any funding number, and may be inclined to back the governor’s proposed 2.5 percent increase.

While several education bills remain alive, the Senate Education Committee did not convene subcommittees on two measures that appear to be priorities for the House GOP: a wide-ranging bill on higher education (House File 2558) and a social studies curriculum bill that inspired hours of floor debate (House File 2544).

Asked about the demise of those bills, Whitver cited a difference in “philosophy”: “The leaders on our Education Committee have been here a long time. They’ve made a lot of changes, they’ve seen success with those changes, and don’t think we need as many bills to keep our state going in the right direction.” That may be a dig at State Representative Taylor Collins, a first-term House member who has led the charge to dismantle diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at state universities.

For what it’s worth, Senate Education Committee chair Ken Rozenboom has served in the legislature since 2013. Vice chair Jeff Taylor (who also leads the Senate Education Appropriations subcommittee) is hardly an old hand, though—he was first elected in 2020. On the House side, Education Committee chair Skyler Wheeler was first elected in 2016, and State Representative Steven Holt—one of the most outspoken supporters of the school curriculum bill—has served since 2015.

Health care

The Senate approved the governor’s proposal to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for some Iowans while lowering the income threshold so that fewer people would qualify for pregnancy coverage. Grassley told reporters the House didn’t advance that bill (Senate File 2251) because the fiscal impact was higher than expected. But both the speaker and the majority leader indicated the policy may be included in the health and human services budget.

The Iowa Senate has approved bills that would allow Iowans to obtain hormonal birth control without a prescription several times, most recently in 2023. Behind-the-counter birth control access seems like a lost cause in the House. Whitver told reporters, “I don’t know specifically what their hangup is, you’d have to ask the speaker on that.” Grassley said he personally supports the idea, but there’s no “consensus” in his caucus.

The Senate Workforce Committee did not take up House File 2391, which would cap salaries for temporary nurses working in nursing homes, hospitals, or other health care facilities. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee did not take up House File 2585, which would relax requirements for on-site nursing home inspections, but would mandate more training for nursing home staff. Both passed the lower chamber with large bipartisan majorities.

Asked why the Senate didn’t advance those bills, and whether the Senate plans to address problems in nursing homes in some other way, Whitver said he wasn’t familiar with the specific bills and would want to do more research before commenting.

Grassley cited the bill on traveling nurses as an example of a policy House Republicans would like to attach to some other legislation this year. “We felt that bill was extremely important,” he said, and it passed with a “very high level of support. And so there is a little bit of frustration that a bill like that wasn’t able to move forward.”


In a remarkably cynical move, the Senate Judiciary Committee declined to take up House File 2575, billed as an act to increase penalties for the existing crime of “fetal homicide.” House Republicans approved the bill on March 7, despite warnings from Democrats that replacing “terminates a human pregnancy” with “causes the death of an unborn child” could threaten the legality of fertility treatments.

Committee chair Brad Zaun explained that he pulled the bill because “there was some definite concerns about in vitro fertilization and the negative effects and unintended consequences with that (bill), and that was very problematic for myself.”

Whitver said on March 14 he wasn’t “overly familiar” with the bill, adding,

What I do understand about it is it needed work. The IVF part specifically needed work. You know, we were kind of doing the opposite of what Alabama just rushed into session to do, which was allow IVF.

And we just thought—you know, it came over fairly late, and we just thought, that bill is not ready for prime time, we’re going to put it on the shelf and move on.

What Zaun and Whitver didn’t say: in 2019, they and all of their GOP colleagues voted for a nearly identical bill. So much for “not ready for prime time.”


Republicans introduced many bills targeting immigrants this year. House File 2320, which would prevent undocumented immigrants from paying in-state tuition rates at state universities or community colleges, never came up for a vote on the House floor. Senate File 2340, making it a crime for undocumented immigrants to enter Iowa if they had been denied entry or deported from the U.S., passed the Senate and is eligible for debate in the House.

But the Senate Judiciary Committee did not take up House File 2608, which would establish a new criminal offense of “smuggling” non-citizens and would require redundant checks to ensure Iowans on public assistance are citizens. Members of the Latino community and volunteers who work with migrants warned the bill would criminalize acts of charity, such as driving an undocumented immigrant to an appointment.

On the flip side, the House Labor and Workforce Committee did nothing with Senate File 108, the Senate Republicans’ latest attempt to force Iowa employers to use the federal e-Verify system to check employee citizenship. The business community largely opposed that bill, because e-Verify can produce false positives, and the potential penalties for non-compliant employers were severe.

Grassley told reporters that House Republicans don’t consider immigration a “dead issue” for the session. He said they were looking for other vehicles for the legislative language, because members are hearing a lot about immigration back in their districts.

Asked whether finding agreement on this issue was a priority for Senate Republicans, Whitver noted that immigration is “largely a federal issue,” so there are “a limited number of things we can do at the state level.” He acknowledged the chambers have pursued different approaches, but said “it’s also something that we want voters to know we care about.”

State government

The Senate fast-tracked a bill in February to undermine the State Auditor’s office, which is led by Iowa’s only Democratic statewide elected official. Senate File 2311 would allow state agencies to contract with independent CPAs for their annual audits, instead of using auditors employed by the state. A House subcommittee considered the bill but did not recommend advancing it. State Government Committee chair Jane Bloomingdale did not bring it before the panel in time for the second funnel, saying it lacked support to pass.

When asked about this bill’s demise, Whitver said, “I’m disappointed, but that’s funnel week. Any funnel week, there’s bills that survive and bills that die. That’s just part of the process.” Will it be an ongoing conversation? “Probably,” Whitver said. “I don’t know about this year. It sounds like it’s kind of dead for this year.”

Asked whether House Republicans would be willing to negotiate on this legislation, Grassley told reporters it wouldn’t be one of their priorities, due to the unexpected fiscal impact. According to the Legislative Services Agency’s fiscal note, state auditors charge agencies $85 per hour, while private CPA firms may charge between $95 and $183 per hour.

The Senate and House are far apart on how many state boards and commissions should be eliminated. Senate Republicans stuck with the governor’s preferred approach, and would merge or scrap 111 bodies, while the House bill would cut 49 board or commissions. Neither chamber has voted on its proposal; Senate File 2385 and House File 2574 now sit on the unfinished business calendars.

Whitver said he hoped to have “good conversations” about this issue over the next few weeks. He supports the concept, but hasn’t talked with counterparts about it because “AEAs have taken a lot of time.”

I would guess Reynolds will insist on signing a bill to cut back on state boards, and this bill will become a bargaining chip in unrelated negotiations between House and Senate leaders.

Of all the bills the Senate killed last week, the most surprising was House File 2482, which would expand cancer coverage for firefighters. House members approved the bill unanimously, but Senate State Government Committee chair Jason Schultz did not convene a subcommittee.

Schultz told The Iowa Standard website the bill would involve “an incredibly large expansion” with potentially “sky-high” costs. He said, “In highly emotional situations like that, somebody has got to be the taxpayer’s watchdog and remove emotion and think logically about the situation.” Ty Rushing reported for Iowa Starting Line that the bill would not incur costs for the state; rather, the costs would fall on cities, their insurance pools, and firefighters (who might face higher pension contributions).

Whitver answered a reporter’s question about this bill by saying, “There’s a lot of pension bills that come through here every year.” He said he didn’t know why Schultz didn’t advance that bill, but “I trust Senator Schultz a lot. He knows these issues, he researches them, and we have to trust our committee process.”

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • Divide and conquer

    If only the other party had some game, they could seize the opportunity. Last time I heard, they were still sorry to be too white.

  • Divide and conquer

    If the Dems were more successful, would you quit trolling Bleeding Heartland? If so, that motivates me to work even harder!

  • Yes please

    The Dems will win again at some point. Politics is a pendulum that swings between right and left. Silencing different voices may just slow the swing.

  • Whitver and Grassley are McConnell and McCarthy

    Whitver and Grassley present a very interesting portrait of different styles of leadership.

    Whitver is the majority leader because he earned it, and he runs the senate in a way that clearly shows he’s in charge. He’s committed to passing the bills that will have, in his view, the biggest positive impact (policy wise and electorally, which is crucial). He’s not allowing much to pass in March that will come back to bite them in November. Like Mitch McConnell, he’s playing the long game–pass enough to make the changes you want in the long term, but hold back the bills that are problematic in the short term (fetal homicide). Whitver gets his committee chairs to play to his beat, like Zaun and Sinclair, killing or amending problematic bills while Whitver can sit back and say that he trusts his committee chairs. He’s even gotten his most ardent bomb-throwers (like Jake Chapman) to cool it so that they don’t hurt the party with another “sinister teachers” line.

    Grassley is someone who became Speaker of the House based on his last name and connections alone. He appears to have no control over his caucus, instead letting people like Skyler Wheeler and Jeff Shipley set the tone and propose whatever nonsense bills they like. He’s not at all effective at keeping the far-right wing of his party in line, and while he does his job in paying lip service to Reynolds, like Kevin McCarthy paid lip service to Trump, he’s not very effective in advancing his boss’ agenda.

    One wonders if Grassley lives in the same state of fear that McCarthy once did: the fear that someone with more gravitas like Steve Holt or someone on his far right like Skyler Wheeler is licking their chops waiting to take his place, or that he might lose Reynolds’ favor and thus lose his entire political future.