Argentina’s lower house approves Milei’s omnibus bill after marathon debate

Lawmakers negotiated eleventh-hour modifications that cut down on privatizations and the scope of Milei’s legislative powers. The articles will now be voted on individually

By Amy Booth and Facundo Iglesia

Updated January 24, 8 p.m.

President Javier Milei’s controversial omnibus bill is one step closer to becoming law. 

Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies voted to approve the president’s maiden reform package as a whole by 144 votes to 109. It will now pass to the Senate — but not until members of the lower house have voted on each of its articles individually, a process scheduled to start on Tuesday at 2 p.m.

The final vote came shortly after 6 p.m. following a marathon three-day session that dragged on until nearly 1 a.m. on Friday before resuming in the morning. The debate was beset by a flurry of proposed eleventh-hour modifications, negotiated after congressional commissions green-lit their final draft on January 24, creating confusion about the bill’s contents.

The elimination of over 100 articles was announced immediately before the vote.

Milei’s La Libertad Avanza coalition has just 38 deputies, far short of the 129 votes needed for a lower house majority — but the vote squeezed through with the support of right-wing and center-right allies such as PRO, the UCR, Innovación Federal, and most of Hacemos Coalición Federal. The center-right UCR reiterated throughout the debate that they would back the bill, but were in partial disagreement with its contents.

“We managed to approve the bill by a large majority,” LLA deputy Santiago Santurio told the Herald, describing the session as “excellent.” He emphasized that the result came despite his bloc’s minority and inexperience — LLA was founded in 2021.

The articles removed from the bill immediately before the vote meant that less than half of the bill’s original 664 articles were left. Finance minister Luis Caputo announced the elimination of the entire fiscal chapter in late January. But the bill maintains the complete or partial privatization of more than a dozen state companies including water utility AySA, national carrier Aerolíneas Argentinas, and the Argentine mail service. 

It also deregulates vast swathes of the Argentine economy, and declares a public emergency in economic, financial, security, tariff, energy and administrative issues until December 31. It also delegates to Milei the power to legislate on those issues for the same period.

Cristian Ritondo, head of the right-wing PRO party’s bloc, said that by voting in favor of the bill, his party would give the government a “tool box” to “solve the problems that cheap populism created over the years.” He said that some of the proposals included in the bill will put Argentina on the road of being a “normal” country. 

“We could have presented some of them,” he said.

Hacemos Coalición Federal deputy Carlos Gutiérrez said that for Milei, the bill is “a tool to start governing after 50 days [in office].” He added that his bloc will demand concessions on biofuels once voting on individual articles begins on Tuesday.

Peronist and leftist opposition

Peronist opposition alliance Unión por la Patria voted against the bill, their deputies sitting in the session with printed signs saying “May it NOT become the law!” The leftist Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores — Unidad (FIT-U) also rejected the bill.

“Evidently, there’s no clarity about what was voted on,” Deputy Myriam Bregman of FIT-U told the Herald on the sidelines of the chamber. “It was a very quick reading of the articles, there wasn’t even enough time to check whether they’d excluded what they said they’d exclude or not.” She added that the changes had been discussed “a lot in private offices and very little on the house floor.”

UxP deputy Eduardo Valdés said that the proposals to delegate some legislative powers to Milei were unconstitutional, stating: “No expert in constitutional law — not those who think like I do, nor those who don’t — has said this law doesn’t violate the constitution.” He added that he was more worried about the delegation of powers to Milei than to previous presidents because Milei means to change the “matrix of Argentina.”

You may also be interested in: Milei still wants the power to legislate: here’s what that means

In Argentina, Congress can only delegate legislative powers to the executive branch if they pertain to strictly-defined issues of public administration or situations of emergency. The president can then pass laws by decree as long as the chief of staff co-signs them. Powers are delegated for a given time period only, and can be revoked by Congress. 

Milei’s supporters point out that numerous recent Argentine presidents have had some legislative powers delegated to them. However, critics worry that Milei will attempt to use the powers to skirt due process — in particular, to reintroduce articles cut from the omnibus bill through the back door.

“How does this law fight poverty or improve pensions?” asked UxP deputy Leandro Santoro in fiery comments to the house. “We Argentines know what happens when the economic model is based on austerity and deregulation,” he shouted, gesticulating with both hands.
Outside Argentina’s Congress, protesters gathered for the third night in a row to demand the bill be rejected. Over 100 people, including over 25 journalists, were injured on Thursday night when police used rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters. Six people were arrested on Wednesday.


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