Lower House poised for much-anticipated omnibus bill debate

La Libertad Avanza has been intensely negotiating, reaching compromises with other blocs to get it approved. Of the bill’s original 664 articles, 278 have been removed.

A pedestrian walks in front of the National Congress, as Argentines struggle amid rising inflation, in Buenos Aires, Argentina May 11, 2023. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

by Martina Jaureguy and Facundo Iglesia

President Javier Milei’s flagship state reform proposal known as the “omnibus bill” will be debated in the Chamber of Deputies in a session scheduled to begin Wednesday at 10 a.m

The bill aims to modify or eliminate hundreds of laws and reform key aspects of public administration, economic regulations, and norms that pertain to social life, such as the right to protest.

The session is expected to last around 40 hours, with a 12 to 14-hour recess that has yet to be confirmed. First, deputies from each bloc will give speeches about the proposal. After, they will vote on the bill as a whole and then on each article separately.

With just 38 out of 257 deputies, the ruling coalition La Libertad Avanza (LLA) has been intensely negotiating for the past month to gather the necessary backing. Major points of the bill, such as the fiscal chapter, have been removed to get more support. Out of the 664 articles the original bill had, 278 have been removed and 40 were modified.

If approved, Milei could take on legislative powers until December 2024 and rule via decree over issues deemed to be a public emergency. Congress could also extend that period for another year. These special powers have been a sticking point in negotiations, with their original scope being reduced: the current version of the bill would give the president power over economic, financial, security, tariff, energy, and public administration matters.

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

Strained alliances

With a large contingent of the Lower House (Peronist Unión por la Patria and left-wing Frente de Izquierda) decidedly opposed to the bill, the focus has been on the so-called “moderate opposition.” That includes sectors from right-wing and centrist PRO and Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) parties, as well as the Hacemos Coalición Federal center-right bloc.

However, dialogue between LLA and the moderate opposition was tense on Wednesday afternoon, with LLA deputies threatening to suspend the session if the other blocs didn’t fully back certain articles of the bill they were particularly interested in approving. 

On Monday night, members of LLA held a meeting with 16 provincial governors to find common ground. According to sources from parties in attendance, the governors raised the possibility of allocating 30% of the PAIS tax collection to the provinces, a federal tax enforced for some US dollar transactions.

A source from the Hacemos bloc told the Herald that Interior Minister Guillermo Francos agreed to discuss the possibility of adding that proposal to the bill. However, some members of the opposition were appalled when, mere minutes after the meeting, the Presidential Press Office launched a communiqué saying that taxes would not be included in the bill.

“It is very difficult to help those who do not allow themselves or do not want to be helped,” the Hacemos source said. “Maybe the government does not want to be helped and thinks that confrontational strategies are more useful for its political capital.” 

However, a source from LLA who was in the meeting told the Herald that things played out differently and that there was never an agreement nor “a serious proposal” to allocate part of the tax to the provinces. The source said that, as Economy Minister Luis Caputo announced on Friday, the fiscal chapter of the law would be discussed later on. “There is consensus among governors and political leaders to pass the law,” the source added.

The UCR and Hacemos held more meetings on Tuesday to finesse what position they will take on the chamber’s floor. Communiqués from both blocs said that they would guarantee the quorum to kickstart the session. They plan to vote in favor of the bill in general but not support some of the articles, sources from both told the Herald. 

A UCR source said they are still “worried” about elements of the bill even though most of their requested changes have been made by LLA. Points of contention include the articles outlining widespread privatization, targeting social protest, reforming a law protecting glaciers, and giving tacit permission to burn fields if requests to do so aren’t rejected within 90 days.

“We will pay special attention to the delegation of legislative powers,” the Hacemos source said, claiming that as of Tuesday afternoon, LLA had closed down on all communications. “Maybe we should do the same.” 

On Tuesday, Hacemos deputy Nicolás Massot told Radio con Vos he is expecting the government to start releasing information that could affect the public image of the deputies that could potentially reject the bill.

“This is a government looking for legitimacy in conflict,” he said. “I think the government has no interest in this law, they just want to create an enemy.”


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