The omnibus bill cleared the Lower House: what’s next?

The ruling coalition is set for another round of intense negotiations, starting with Senate commissions, while a May 25 deadline looms

Ruling coalition La Libertad Avanza (LLA) is preparing for another round of intense negotiations to gather support for President Javier Milei’s omnibus bill — this time, in the Senate. After getting approved in the Lower House on Tuesday, it has to go through another round of commissions next week while the May 9 general strike and the government’s self-imposed May 25 deadline draw closer.

Senators will start discussing the bill in joint meetings of the General Legislation, the Budget and Treasury, and the Constitutional Affairs commissions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Interior Minister Guillermo Francos, Treasury Secretary Carlos Guberman, Energy Secretary Eduardo Chirillo and other public officials are expected to speak during the meetings. The fiscal package, a central part of Milei’s reform addressed and approved separately during the omnibus bill debate, will also be discussed during a Budget and Treasury Commission session.

When the commission debates are over, senators sign a final version of the bill, known as dictamen, which is then to be discussed on the Senate floor. According to the Senate’s guidelines — unlike what happens in the Chamber of Deputies — at least a week has to pass after the dictamen signature for senators to hold a session to debate a bill. Assuming the signature would happen on Thursday, the session would be the following Thursday, May 16.

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The votes

The omnibus bill, formally called the “Law for the bases and starting points for Argentines’ freedom”, was approved with 142 votes, while 106 deputies voted against it and five abstained.

Deputies then voted on individual sections of the bill, where the vote count differed slightly. However, overall, ruling coalition LLA had consistent support from the right-wing PRO party and the majority of center-right blocs Hacemos Coalición Federal (HCF) and Unión Cívica Radical (UCR).

Peronist coalition Unión por la Patria (UxP), left-wing Frente de Izquierda, as well as socialist deputies Mónica Fein and Esteban Paulón and Peronist Natalia De la Sota voted against it. Four UCR members and a Coalición Cívica deputy — who broke away from HCF along with five fellow Coalición Cívica members after the session — abstained.

A similar scenario could happen in the Senate, although it remains unclear whether the ruling coalition has enough votes for the bill to pass given the proportion of bloc members are different.

Just like in the Lower House, UxP is the biggest bloc, but in the Senate — with 33 lawmakers out of 72 — they are closer to the necessary number to reach quorum (37) and commanding the majority vote, assuming most senators attend the session. Frente de Izquierda, the only other bloc that consistently voted against Milei’s bill in the Lower House, doesn’t have any senators.

LLA only has seven senators, and PRO has 6. UCR has 13, but not all of them are expected to back the omnibus bill.

In March, the Senate rejected Milei’s wide-sweeping presidential decree of necessity and urgency, the DNU 70/2023. UCR senators Martín Lousteau and Edith Terenzi voted against the DNU alongside UxP members and non-Kirchnerist Peronists.

Before that, in December, LLA had gathered the support of 39 senators to choose the Senate’s authorities, leaving UxP out of the decision-making process.

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The government’s deadline

In Argentina, the Senate is seen almost as a direct representative of provincial politics in Congress. Unlike in the Lower House, where deputies are voted using a proportional system, each province gets three senators, who can be from different parties or coalitions. This is why the governors’ views on any bill are key for it to pass or fall through. And even more so in this case, given Milei’s history of tension with them after cutting funds for the provinces and insulting Chubut governor Ignacio Torres.

Milei set May 25, the day Argentina commemorates the 1810 May Revolution against the Spanish viceroy, as a deadline for the omnibus bill to be approved, pressuring governors to persuade lawmakers of their same coalitions to vote for it.

This is because Milei will meet governors on May 25 and intends for them to sign the “May pact,” a political agreement that would be centered around 10 key principles, including “non-negotiable” efforts towards fiscal balance, reduction of public spending, and reforms in tax, pensions, and labor issues. As the president’s stated pre-requisite for the May Pact, if the omnibus bill is rejected, the pact is expected to fall through.

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