Lower House debates ‘omnibus bill’ in tension-filled session

The bill is expected to pass as a whole, but the so-called ‘moderate opposition’ has already stated they will not support some of the articles

Last updated January 31, 2024, 17:23

The Lower House has begun discussing President Javier Milei’s massive state reform and economic deregulation proposal known as the “omnibus bill.” The much-awaited session began Wednesday at 10:29 a.m. amid friction between the opposition and ruling coalition La Libertad Avanza (LLA).

Although the bill is expected to pass, fierce debates are expected over key sections. Despite the moderate opposition’s backing, tension between them and the ruling coalition has been escalating over the past few days. By Tuesday, there was still no full consensus on the privatization of state-owned companies, an issue the government has insisted is non-negotiable. Giving Milei the power to legislate on certain issues is another thorny issue.

The tension is palpable, and not just inside the building. Security fences have been set up around Congress, and dozens of military police and federal police patrol cars are in the nearby streets. Several social movements and unions are expected to march to Congress in the afternoon and evening.

Police officers were stationed behind security fences all around the Congress’ perimeter. Photo: Nacho Petunchi / Ámbito

Inside the chamber, things got off to a rocky start. While Frente de Izquierda de los Trabajadores-Unidad (FIT-U) deputy Myriam Bregman was giving her opening speech, a man standing on the balconies started insulting her. Deputies president Menem ordered Congress security to escort him out.

During the session, UxP deputy Cecilia Moreau pointed out that Leandro Sosa, co-founder of the far-right group Revolución Federal (Federal Revolution), was in the chamber. Brenda Uliarte, who is facing charges for the assassination attempt against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2022, has been linked to the group. 

“[Sosa] is in the house tweeting and threatening lawmakers,” Moreau said. She asked Menem to investigate who invited Sosa and to guarantee the security of those present in the Lower Chamber.

Martín Menem speaks with reporters before entering the chamber. Photo: Nacho Petunchi / Ámbito

A long road ahead

The session is expected to last at least 40 hours. Menem said there will likely be a recess so lawmakers can rest, potentially before the vote on the bill. If it passes, deputies will discuss each of its 338 articles individually.

“I am against debates that last over 14 hours at a time,” he said during a press scrum before entering the chamber, minutes after 10 a.m.

Menem told the Herald that talks with the rest of the blocs are “always cordial” and added that he is expecting the session to be calm. “Many people are watching us.” UCR deputy Martín Tetaz said he expects the session to last for at least “a couple more days.”

A source from LLA told the Herald that the session is “going well” and hopes the general vote on the bill will be tonight or in the early hours of Thursday, but conceded that there will probably be a recess before that happens.

Negotations must go on

On Tuesday, blocs from the so-called “moderate opposition” Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) and Hacemos Coalición Federal said they would vote for the bill as a party but will not support some of its articles. If this happens, the bill would pass and then be sent to the Senate, but Menem was cautious “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” he said in the hall leading to the chamber. Negotiations were still ongoing throughout Wednesday morning.

“It’s very likely that [the government] will get the bill approved as legislation, and that negotiations will go on and sparks will keep flying over certain articles during the day,” deputy Romina Del Plá, from left-wing Frente de Izquierda de los Trabajadores-Unidad (FIT-U), told the Herald before entering Congress.

Things are not all calm within LLA, either. On Monday, Interior Minister Guillermo Francos met with 16 governors and deputies from the moderate opposition to find common ground on certain reforms. However, the president’s press office rejected these possible changes mere minutes after the meeting ended.

“We don’t understand what the president is doing by breaking up every negotiation they had going on,” UxP deputy Paula Penacca told the Herald. “Milei believes he can do as he pleases.”

UxP and FIT-U are the only two blocs that will reject the bill as a whole, gathering 105 negative votes in total. Although some deputies from other coalitions could still reject it in general, LLA, UCR, Hacemos, and PRO together have over 130 positive votes, making up more than half of the chamber’s members.

“We don’t want to put any obstacles in the path of any government that is just starting, and we want to help Milei, but the question is how,” UxP deputy Pablo Yedlin told the Herald. “Whether it is by passing bills that we think are unconstitutional and bad for Argentines, or by marking a different path.”


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