Round two: Argentina’s Lower House debates Milei’s new ‘omnibus bill’

Deputies began debating a downsized version of Milei’s flagship proposal on Monday, with LLA needing alliances to hold strong for a legislative win

Argentina's Congress debates Javier Milei's economic deregulation omnibus bill. Source: Congress press office

By Facundo Iglesia and Martina Jaureguy

Updated at 12:32

Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies has started debating a pared-down version of the “omnibus bill,” President Javier Milei’s flagship state reform proposal. The session kicked off shortly before 12:30 on Monday afternoon, and is expected to last overnight into Tuesday.

It remains unclear whether the bill will command the majority it needs to pass. While Milei’s La Libertad Avanza and their right-wing allies, PRO, will vote for the bill, the government will also need the support of some members of parties such as the Unión Cívica Radical, whose support has been more ambivalent.

The bill includes articles that would give Milei power to legislate on administrative, economic, financial, and energy-related issues for a year. It also lays the groundwork for the privatization of nine public companies.

Like its first iteration, the bill is formally called “Law for the grounds and starting points for the Argentines’ freedom,” although it is frequently referred to as the “omnibus bill” or the “Bases bill.”

The government filed the original in December. It had 664 articles that aimed to modify or overturn hundreds of existing laws and create new norms, changing the state’s structure and deregulating broad swathes of the economy, including the oil and gas sector.

The controversial bill entailed intense negotiations between the new ruling coalition La Libertad Avanza (LLA) and other blocs in Congress to gain enough support — it only has 38 deputies out of 257. Despite the president’s explicit refusal to change the bill, only 366 of its articles made it to the House floor. 

Deputies approved the omnibus bill as a whole in February and then began voting on each article individually. Two major sticking points were articles that would have given certain legislative powers to the president and sweeping privatizations of state companies. The articles on legislative powers were approved but the session stalled when deputies reached the privatization chapter. LLA called for the bill to be sent back to commissions, a surprise move that voided its progress.

On Thursday, after months of new negotiations, deputies’ commissions approved a 232-article-long final edition of the bill, removing some of the more divisive points. The list of public companies slated for privatization has gone from 41 to only four. Five more could be either privatized or put to private tender.

A fiscal reform bill, originally part of the omnibus bill, will also be discussed on Monday. 

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LLA deputy José Luis Espert, head of the Budget commission. Photo: Chamber of Deputies Press

All in favor, all opposed, all in doubt

“Argentines voted for a change, and our bloc will accompany it,” said a communiqué by the right-wing PRO party, the government’s biggest ally party in Congress, posted on X on Thursday. The entire bloc voted in favor of the original omnibus bill generally in February. “We are convinced that the Bases bill and the fiscal reform will give the national government the necessary tools to push the country forward.”

The largest sector of the center-right Unión Cívica Radical (UCR, 24 deputies) has been negotiating aspects of the omnibus bill with La Libertad Avanza (LLA) since its first iteration. The party’s Parliamentary Secretary, Alejandro Cacace, told the Herald that he expects most of the UCR to vote for the bill in full.

The party, however, disagrees with two aspects of the bill. They want to eliminate mandatory union contributions, something they had already argued for with the original omnibus bill. According to a document filed in the Lower House, they consider them union instruments that cause “serious economic detriment to workers.” 

UCR’s Martín Tetaz, who supports the bill, told the Herald that the government is open to dialog and that it added a lot of suggestions his party made, particularly those concerning labor reform.

The center-right Hacemos Coalición Federal (HCF, 22 deputies) bloc plans to broadly support the bill. However, on Sunday night Coalición Cívica (CC, 6 deputies) leader Elisa Carrió announced that her party would leave the bloc on Tuesday because it disagreed with other members of HCF on issues such as the bill’s proposed labor reform.

The CC, one of HCF’s member parties, presented a minority opinion opposing giving Milei legislative powers, as well as the dissolution of the National Institute of Industrial Technology and the Theater Music Institutes.

The Unión por la Patria (UxP, 99 deputies) and the Frente de Izquierda (5 deputies) blocs are expected to vote against the omnibus bill again. The UxP deputies called for a special session on Tuesday to repeal Milei’s economic deregulation mega-decree, an executive order in force since December 29 that overturned hundreds of laws protecting consumers and workers from predatory business practices. The Senate voted against it on March 14, but it remains in force unless the Lower House also strikes it down.

However, UCR’s Cacace said that a special session would not be possible since deputies would still be discussing the omnibus bill in the House. A UxP deputy told the Herald they were unsure if they had enough votes to annul the mega-decree. 

Given the scope of the omnibus bill, the debate is expected to last at least until Tuesday. When its longer original version was addressed in February, the debate had to be divided into four days so that deputies could rest in between. 

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