Villarruel breaks tie in Argentina’s Senate to approve Milei’s flagship Ley Bases

The vice president broke a 36-36 vote and the bill’s modifications will return to the lower house once individual chapters are discussed

Vice President Victoria Villarruel as Argentina's senate debates the Ley Bases, June 2024. Source: Ignachio Petunchi, Ambito

Additional reporting by Facundo Iglesia

Updated 11:22 p.m. June 12, 2024

After 13 hours of debate, President Javier Milei’s controversial Ley Bases was approved in the Senate with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Victoria Villarruel.

“Today, we have two Argentinas,” Villarruel said as she cast her vote. “A violent Argentina that burns a car, throws stones, and debates the exercise of democracy,” she said, in reference to the protests that took place throughout the day outside Congress. 

“The other is that of workers, who hope with great pain that what they voted in November be respected. For those Argentines who suffer, who don’t want to see their children leave the country, my vote is affirmative.” 

Although approved as a whole, senators are set to vote on each individual chapter of the bill by midnight. A separate fiscal package was still being debated with no timeline for a vote at the time of writing: the session is expected to continue into the early hours of Thursday.

The controversial bill will now return to the lower house, which will vote on whether to approve the modifications.

If approved by deputies, the version of the bill approved by the senate becomes law. The Chamber of Deputies can also reject the changes approved by the senate, in which case the version originally approved by the lower house becomes law.

Nationwide cacerolazos erupted at 8 p.m. after protesters opposing the Ley Bases outside Congress were met with escalating repression tactics by multiple security forces throughout the day.  

The session

The session began minutes after 10 a.m. when 37 senators, the minimum number needed for quorum, took their seats. All PRO, La Libertad Avanza (LLA), and Unión Cívica Radical senators were present. Unón por la Patria (UxP) lawmakers and two senators from Santa Cruz province were the only ones absent, but later sat down after the session officially began.

The government agreed to make some crucial changes in order to get more support. LLA Senator Bartolomé Abdala, who is in charge of informing the state of the bills before the proper debate begins, announced that some highly contested articles would be modified or dropped.

The ruling coalition decided to eliminate an article that would have ended a pension moratorium that allowed people of retirement age who did not have the required 30 years of contributions the possibility of “purchasing” the number of years they lacked in order to retire.

They also left airline Aerolíneas Argentinas, mail company Correo Argentino and Radio y Televisión Argentina — an entity grouping state-owned media outlets — from the list of public companies to be privatized. Energy provider Energía Argentina and Intercargo — a company that provides airport boarding and baggage services — would still be completely privatized, while others, such as water-providing company AYSA, would be up for concession.

Public institutions related to culture, science, and technology would also be excluded from an article that allows Milei to eliminate or modify public entities.

UCR Senator Martín Lousteau, one of the few lawmakers whose vote is still unknown, criticized several aspects of the bills in his opening presentation. “There is almost nothing in these laws that could benefit the middle class, small and medium businesses, or pensioners,” he said. 

“Almost every part of the Ley Bases aims at building privilege for a small minority, defending the big fish and neglecting the week.” Lousteau proposed voting on an alternative final version of the bills’ texts that differs from the agreement reached two weeks ago in commissions.

Photo: Ignacio Petunchi

Protests on the street

Thousands of people are protesting the bills outside Congress during the session. Unions and social movements tried to make their way to the Dos Congresos square carrying large banners amid the heavy mist that engulfed Buenos Aires in the early morning hours.

The Naval Police gassed demonstrators, among them journalists and Unión por la Patria deputies Eduardo Valdés, Carlos Castagnetto, Leopoldo Moreau, Juan Manuel Pedrini, Carolina Yutrovic, and Luis Basterra. The five of them were taken to the Santa Lucia Hospital.

The front of the square has been fenced down since early Wednesday. At around 8:30 a.m., Buenos Aires City police overseeing the situation were seen taking pictures of the banners. Several federal police cars were also parked in the streets surrounding the building.

Eva Loperena is a political and social activist from Movimiento Evita and was among the first dozen protesters to arrive in front of Congress. “Both the Ley Bases and [Milei’s] presidential decree deeply affect me and the movement I am part of. It represents a huge stepback in terms of labor rights,” she said. 

“The fact that foreign companies would be able to come here and not generate any revenue for Argentina is an atrocity,” she said, referencing the Incentive Framework for Large Investments (RIGI, by its Spanish initials) that would be created if the Ley Bases is approved.

Photo: Martina Jaureguy

What the vote count looks like

The proposal is a pared-down version of what is also known as the “omnibus bill,” after the original version fell through in February. It is formally called the “Law for the Bases and Starting Points for Argentines’ Freedom.” The Lower House passed both bills at the end of April. If the Senate approves the bills with the changes that have already been enacted, they will return to the Lower House for a debate and final vote.

The debate is estimated to last around five hours before a general vote is called. If it passes, each individual section will then be discussed and voted on. The fiscal package will follow the same path. The session is expected to last until the evening hours.

The vote will be very tight and the government will need every vote it can get. Out of the 72 senators, 37 would have to vote favorably in order for the bills to pass. UxP has 33 lawmakers, the biggest coalition in the Senate, and all are confirmed to vote against the bills. All 13 senators of ruling coalition LLA and right-wing party PRO will vote favorably. Other favorable votes come from provincial party senators.

“The entire PRO bloc will support the bills,” Senator Martín Goerling Lara (PRO) told the press inside the Senate building before entering the chamber. “They are extremely important for Argentina, not just for the government. Argentina needs [economic] reactivation and investments. We need to give the government the tools it needs so that can happen.”

Goerling Lara also dismissed the importance of the protest, despite speaking against the backdrop of bangers going off in the distance. “Those who are outside are just a small part of Argentina. A square [full of people] doesn’t represent the entire country.”

The crux of the matter, however, will hinge on the Unión Cívica Radical. While the majority of party senators will back the government’s proposal, some of them are in doubt and could tilt the scales. 

On Tuesday, just one day before the vote, Argentine media published a draft of the appointment of Neuquén Senator Lucía Crexell as an ambassador before UNESCO in Paris. The foreign ministry crafted the proposal but it is unknown how the text was leaked. 

Crexell, who became a senator under the provincial Movimiento Popular Neuquino party and is now part of the center-right Juntos por el Cambio alliance, has kept a low profile regarding the Ley Bases. Media reports also speculated that, considering the tight scenario the government is facing at the Senate, Crexell’s appointment at UNESCO was a quid pro quo for her positive vote.

The senator rejected those allegations, calling the whole thing a “set-up.” “It is a set-up undoubtedly carried out by a party interested in muddying the debate on the bill and myself,” she said during an interview with the LMNeuquén newspaper, seemingly blaming Kirchnerism. However, she said she would vote positively for the bill in general, “and especially the points that benefit Neuquén.” Crexell also confirmed that she was offered the position at UNESCO, but claimed that the two things were unrelated.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald