One-two punch for Milei as Senate votes down mega-decree

The decree will remain in force unless the Lower House also rejects it — but the vote marks a second major legislative defeat after the failure of the omnibus bill

Argentina's Vice President and President of the Senate Victoria Villarruel attends a lawmakers' meeting to debate a necessity and urgency decree, whose objective is to deregulate the economy, among other measures, at the National Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 14, 2024. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Senators voted to annul President Javier Milei’s sweeping presidential decree 42-25 with four abstentions on Thursday. The vote heightened tensions with Vice President Victoria Villarruel, who called the session despite indications the ruling La Libertad Avanza coalition didn’t have the votes for the decree to pass. 

It’s the second high-profile legislative blow to the administration following the surprise failure of the omnibus bill reform package in Congress last month.

The mega-decree, which is currently in force, will remain in effect unless it is also rejected by the Lower House. Rejection in both chambers would make it one of the very few presidential “decrees of necessity and urgency” (DNU by its Spanish initials) to be overturned in Congress. It’s the first to be rejected by the Senate.

“I’m voting against this DNU and the reason is simple: the DNU is unconstitutional. And that’s the only thing we should be evaluating,” said Senator Martín Lousteau of the Unión Civica Radical (UCR) party, whose votes proved decisive. He also criticized the president’s personality, online presence, and the tensions that preluded Thursday’s session. 

“[Milei] is a president who lies, [a president who] says he doesn’t know what he signs, and a president who attacks his vice president,” Lousteau continued. “He accumulates power and instills fear so I don’t think we should give a person like that a DNU, on top of it being unconstitutional.”

The debate sparked tensions between Milei and Villarruel, who as head of the Senate had called Thursday’s session and put the mega-decree on the agenda despite most senators being against it. 

On Wednesday night, rumors circulated that Villarruel would backtrack amid a vehement online backlash by La Libertad Avanza (LLA) supporters. The president even liked a post on X saying she should be “hung in the plaza,” which has since been deleted. Few senators addressed the tensions directly, although several mentioned the “hordes of trolls.” Santa Cruz Senator José María Carambia actively condemned the attacks on Villarruel, saying the Executive Branch should not meddle in Senate sessions.

Sesi—n Pœblica Especial en el Senado de la Naci—n, Buenos Aires, Argentina el 14 de Marzo del 2024.
Photo: Gabriel Cano, Senate Press Team

Milei’s mega DNU 

Milei issued the mega-decree (DNU 70/2023) on December 20, 2023, and its record-breaking 366 articles have been in effect since December 29. It deregulates much of Argentina’s economy, overturning hundreds of laws on issues including rent, labor, healthcare, exports, and price regulations. This type of presidential decree is designed for situations so urgent that there is no time for the usual legislative processes, or when these processes are unavailable, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opposition senators argued the DNU is unconstitutional because it does not comply with the “necessity and urgency” requirement for a DNU, violates the separation of powers, and skipped technical and judicial commissions. 

Senator Anabel Fernández Sagasti of the Peronist Unión por la Patria (UxP) opposition claimed that Milei was trying to pass a third of his presidential objectives with a single decree.

“Tell [the president] we’re willing to discuss every single one of these articles,” said Fernández Sagasti, who represents Mendoza province. “If you’re so sure of your ideas, I would encourage you to debate them. We want to collaborate but we will not allow you to violate the constitution so flagrantly.”

Senators who support the mega-decree claimed it was constitutional and routine, with some describing its reforms as vital. LLA Senator Francisco Paoltroni described opposition senators as “the impediment machine” and called on them to “stop being hypocrites.”

Other supporters argued that the new government had to be given a chance to implement its agenda and that political dialogue should be the priority.

“It’s false that it’s unconstitutional, that the Executive Branch wants to take all power or close down Congress, it’s part of the narrative that seeks the failure of this government that’s just started,” said Senator Beatriz Ávila (PRO, Tucumán). 

“Let’s stop looking for guilty parties because people are looking for solutions to their problems. The guilty ones, the people responsible, are us, political leaders of all political parties from the last few decades. People have zero tolerance for us right now, except the president because they still believe him.”

However, several lawmakers pointed out that the mega-decree was unprecedented in breadth, with opposition members emphasizing the harm caused by the delay in addressing its articles, which are already in effect.

“None of the [previous] DNUs that weren’t debated affected, annulled, and modified the sheer number of laws that this DNU 70/2023 does. That is without a doubt its most salient characteristic that defines the urgent need for a debate,” said María Tereza González, (UxP, Formosa).

She said the government should have defined the 2024 budget first, instead of issuing the mega-decree straight out of the gate. “As UxP we have been working intensely during all January and February to get this mega-decree, which is undoubtedly causing a lot of damage to Argentine society, on the Senate floor.”

You may also be interested in: What does Milei’s massive presidential decree actually say?


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