Milei won his first battle

The omnibus bill 2.0 and fiscal package’s approval in the Lower House is his first legislative win — but the war is far from over

Buenos Aires Herald editorial

Early on Tuesday morning, the sleep-deprived deputies of Argentina’s Lower House voted to pass the second version of Milei’s omnibus bill. In the hours that followed, they approved each of its chapters and a separate, broad fiscal package (an offshoot from the bill’s first iteration).

The timing of these votes was significant: the session came a week after a massive march to defend public universities packed out central Buenos Aires and a day before International Workers’ Day. 

It was the first time either chamber of Argentina’s Congress approved any of Milei’s major initiatives. In February, the first version of the omnibus bill collapsed following a surprise vote to send it back to commissions. A month later, the Senate rejected his mega-decree — the first time it knocked back a presidential decree. (The decree, it should be noted, remains in force unless the Lower House also rejects it.)

Now, all eyes are on the Senate, where the version of the bill approved by deputies has already been filed. Numbers there are far tighter: while Peronist Unión por la Patria, who unanimously opposed the bill, hold 40% (104 of 257) of deputies seats, they hold 45% (33 of 72) of Senate seats. In other words, the opposition needs to persuade just four senators for the bill to be rejected.

Pressure will now fall on Argentina’s governors, who exercise significant political influence over their province’s senators. Milei’s relationship with the nation’s governors has been tempestuous: he blamed them for the first omnibus iteration’s failure and responded by throttling provincial funding, pushing 23 of the 24 governors to back Chubut’s Ignacio Torres — of the Milei-friendly PRO — when he threatened to respond by cutting off oil and gas deliveries.

They are currently sitting on an invitation to Milei’s “May Pact,” a political olive branch in the form of a list of principles Milei feels governors should be able to agree on, and which he has invited them to sign on May 25.

Despite this contentious relationship, the strenuous financial situation of some provinces and political disputes between lawmakers and their governors means that the situation remains open. Catamarca Peronist Senator Lucía Corpacci, for instance, has said that she will most likely vote against the bill. Governor Raúl Jalil, on the other hand, is in favor because of what he says are opportunities for his province’s lithium reserves. 

The rejection of Tucumán senators is also up in the air. While former Health Minister Juan Manzur is expected to reject the bill, there are questions regarding what the other Peronist Senator, Sandra Mendoza, will do. All this while Governor and Milei ally Osvaldo Jaldo has been vocal in his support for the bill and has said he intends to speak to both lawmakers before the Senate treats the bill.   

While Milei’s government marks the irruption of the far right onto Argentina’s political scene, it is unsurprising that right-wing and center-right parties gave him the support he needed this week. Many of the reforms contained in his omnibus bill, such as the privatization of public companies, labor reforms that favor employers over workers, and stimulus for large investments, are common right-wing fare.

What’s concerning is that in their zeal for such reforms, these parties have shown themselves willing to approve irresponsible and dangerous measures such as delegating legislative powers. If the bill makes it through the Senate, they will have given lawmaking powers to a man who can’t seem to answer if he has four or five living dogs.

Does the omnibus bill’s success the second time around show that Milei’s government is finally learning to negotiate? Time will tell whether they have finally opted to focus more on la rosca, as political horse-trading is known here, and less on trolling critics on social media.

But the other question is how much Argentina’s mainstream centrist and right-wing political parties are willing to concede in their zeal to see their pro-business, small-state agenda passed. This is the more significant question in the long run. If this week is anything to go by, it could cost Argentina dearly.


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