Ley Bases: government reaches last-minute agreement in the Senate

The government says the vote will happen within the next two weeks after clinching support for a final version of the bill in a drawn-out session

The government reached a last-minute agreement in the Senate Wednesday night to obtain a final version of its flagship reform proposal known as Ley Bases as well as the fiscal package. This will allow the bill to be voted on in a session that will take place sometime over the next two weeks, although it is still unclear if the legislation will have the necessary backing to ensure it passes. 

Senate commission discussions over the omnibus bill and the fiscal package — a part of the reforms that is being addressed as a separate bill — began on May 7, shortly after the Lower House approved it on April 30. 

Senators from the General Legislation, Budget and Finance, and Constitutional Issues commissions analyzed potential changes to the text approved by deputies. Experts from different areas set to be affected by the bill went to Congress to give their views.

The process became much more drawn-out than the government wanted. On Wednesday afternoon, the commissions met again as ruling coalition La Libertad Avanza (LLA) intended for the commissions’ members to sign a final version of the bill, a step that allows legislative proposals to be discussed on the chamber’s floor.

As night approached, LLA’s still hadn’t gathered the necessary signatures for the final version to be approved — half of the commission’s members plus one is the required number needed. The meeting was called off and senators started leaving. However, newly appointed Chief of Staff Guillermo Francos arrived soon after and talked with the senators, who were doubting whether or not to sign at Vice President Victoria Villarruel’s office. Villarruel is the Senate’s president.

According to Francos, an agreement was reached and both the Ley Bases and the fiscal package got the necessary backing for a session to be held. “The date [of the session] is yet to be determined; that’s the Senate’s decision. It will probably happen either next week or the following,” Francos told TN news channel Wednesday night.

However, the final version, known as a dictamen, still hasn’t been formally approved. The negotiations with Francos happened after the meeting was called off, and some of the senators who finally agreed to sign had already left the building. Senators are expected to properly sign the document on Thursday, enabling a session date to be called.

If the Senate passes both bills, they would automatically return to the Lower House to see if deputies approve or reject the changes. The bills would become law whether the modifications are approved or not, given that both chambers approved them as a whole

The government managed to get initially reticent senators Guadalupe Tagliaferri (right-wing party PRO), Eduardo Kueider (non-Kirchnerist Peronist bloc Unidad Federal) and José Carambia (Por Santa Cruz) to agree to sign.

Carambia agreed to sign after negotiating with Francos changes to the fiscal package that would increase the income tax threshold by 22% for Patagonia provinces, including Santa Cruz (where he is from), Chubut, La Pampa, Neuquén, Río Negro, and Tierra del Fuego. However, this doesn’t ensure senators from those provinces will vote for the bill in the session or that deputies will endorse the modification.

Other changes included in the final text are a modification of the Incentive Framework for Large Investments (RIGI, by its Spanish initials), a legislation that aims to grant tax and fiscal benefits to companies that want to import and invest over US$200 million in Argentina. The modification states that the legislation should not overrule provincial autonomy nor hinder national industry or Argentine employment.

It also expanded the list of public organizations and institutions that would be exempt from the article that would allow the executive branch to dissolve them. It would now protect the National Genetic Database, the National Parks Administration, the National Meteorological Service and the Agricultural Food Health and Quality Service (SENASA, by its Spanish initials), among others. However, national film institute INCAA and other cultural organizations would still be subject to modifications or total dissolution.

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