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ARGENTINA | 04-01-2024 16:26

Congress kicks off year forming key committees and debating single paper ballot

Chamber of Deputies defining bicameral commission to study Javier Milei’s omnibus law; Bill contemplates the privatisation of public companies and grants parliamentary prerogatives to the government, among other points.

The first objective of the Legislative Branch in this new year is to form the committees which will have to analyse and study, among other initiatives of the new government, the omnibus law (whose official title is "Ley de Bases y Puntos de Partida para La Libertad de los Argentinos"), sent by the Javier Milei administration to Congress the previous week and whose most substantial points include the privatisation of public companies, changes in the electoral system, tax reforms, the suspension of the current mechanism for updating pensions and restrictions on protest demonstrations.

Vice-President Victoria Villarruel heading the Senate had already advanced with defining the membership of the Appointments (Acuerdos), Constitutional Issues, Justice and Criminal Issues, Budget, General Legislation, Foreign Affairs and Administrative and Municipal Issues Committees in the close of the old year (December 29) while also naming the eight senators entrusted with analysing the mega-decree sent by Milei to Congress within the Bicameral Legislative Commission.

The octet are Juan Carlos Pagotto (La Libertad Avanza-La Rioja), Víctor Zimmermann (Juntos por el Cambio-Chaco), Luis Juez (Juntos por el Cambio-Córdoba), Juan Carlos Romero (Juntos por el Cambio-Salta), Carlos Mauricio Espinola (Frente de Todos-Corrientes), Anabel Fernández Sagasti (Frente de Todos-Mendoza), Mariano Recalde (Frente de Todos-City) and María Teresa González (Unión por la Patria-Formosa) of whom the latter three are Kirchnerite, while only the libertarian Pagotto and González are new to the Senate.

 

Committees without K senators

In the remaining committees La Libertad Avanza (LLA) and the non-Kirchnerite caucuses have already designated their senators for the committees who will work during this month’s  Extraordinary Sessions while Frente de Todos (FdT) has not presented its representatives because they consider that as the first minority, they should be granted the majority in each committee.

The decision to hand over 10 out of every 17 members or 11 out of every 19 in each committee to non-Kirchnerite senators was taken by the plenary session of December 13 with the backing of a 39-29 majority vote with representatives of the La Libertad Avanza, Radical, PRO, dissident Peronist and some provincial caucuses making up the committees as from December 29.

 

Single paper ballot on agenda 

The Upper House summoned for last Wednesday afternoon a plenary session of the Justice and Criminal Issues and the Constitutional Issues Committees, respectively headed by Pagotto and Edgardo Kueider (dissident Peronist-Entre Ríos) to debate and, if possible, to give a final draft to the bill for a single paper ballot.


This bill, included in the agenda for extraordinary sessions, was approved in the Chamber of Deputies in mid-2022 by an opposition majority of 132 votes with the Radicals, PRO, dissident Peronists, the Coalición Cívica (CC), LLA and minor provincial party caucuses all voting in favour.

The Upper House further summoned for that same Wednesday afternoon at 2.30pm the Budget and Foreign Affairs Committees to analyse the international agreements signed by the Mauricio Macri government with Japan, Luxembourg, China, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey to avoid "double taxation and tax evasion," agreements which must be ratified by Congress. If cleared at the committee stage, these agreements could go to the House floor between next Wednesday and Thursday.

In that sense, the provisional president of the Senate, Senator Bartolomé Abdala (LLA-San Luis) has confirmed that in the course of the week the committees to analyse the bills included in the omnibus law sent by President Milei to Congress and including, among other initiatives, the privatisation of public companies and changes in the electoral system, would start to be formed.

"This week the Upper House will form its committees with meetings to elect its authorities. The bills which have come in will start to be handled and if approval is reached at committee stage, I would say that next week [January 10 or 11] we would surely be in a position to start the session," Abdala told Radio Mitre.

 

Martín Menem: ‘We have the numbers’

Meanwhile, according to the estimate of parliamentary sources, Chamber of Deputies Speaker Martín Menem will be advancing in forming, at the very least, the Budget,  Constitutional Issues and General Legislation Committees to open up parliamentary debate on the 664-article bill sent by the Executive Branch on December 27.

Menem was optimistic regarding the passage of the omnibus law sent to Congress by the government in the past week, hoping to have at least lower house approval for that norm by the end of the month.

"We will have the first part approved before January 31," assured Menem in radio statements, adding: "We will have the time in January to work on the best solution and we will surely reach an agreement. The intention is to vote on it as soon as possible."

"Everybody has their own observations and that’s what parliaments are for. We’ll discuss it and do everything which has to be done so that liberty again becomes the aim of each one of us but the numbers are there," maintained the Speaker.

In the Lower House the attribute of determining how many and which committees is the prerogative of the Congress Speaker, who was advancing in the closing hours of the year towards agreements with the different caucuses to define the committee memberships.

Meanwhile opposition deputies were warning that more committees needed to be formed due to the range of issues included in the bill, aspiring within that framework for the content of the heterogeneous bills to be analysed by 20-23 of the 46 committees making up the Lower House.

 

Omnibus law

The bill (formally entitled "La Ley de Bases y Puntos de Partida para la Libertad de los Argentinos") points out in its first article that its aim is to "promote private initiative, as well as the development of industry and commerce, via a legal régime which assures the benefits of liberty for all inhabitants of the Nation, limiting all state intervention beyond what is necessary to safeguard constitutional rights."

"The present law delegates legislative powers to the national Executive Branch (to meet) the public emergency in economic, financial, fiscal, social, pension, law and order, defence, public service billing, energy and health matters, specifying the bases qualifying each and to run" for a period of two years until December 31, 2025 but which may be extended for a further two years until 2027, thus covering Milei’s entire term.

Among its main points, the bill contemplates making a batch of public companies subject to privatisation, including the ports, Aerolíneas Argentinas, AySA waterworks, Banco de la Nación, Fabricaciones Militares munitions plants, Ferrocarriles Argentinos railways, Radio y Televisión Argentina, Télam news agency and YPF oil.

The initiative further suspends the current system for updating pensions, empowering the Executive Branch "to establish an automatic adjustment mechanism," taking into account "the criteria of equity and economic sustainability" while proposing that "until an automatic mechanism has been established, the national Executive Branch may make periodic increases giving priority to the beneficiaries with the lowest incomes."

The bill also proposes repealing the first article of the Ley de Fortalecimiento de la Sostenibilidad de la Deuda Pública debt law in order to eliminate the requirement of a special law of Congress in order to authorise debt in foreign currency.

In one of its final articles, the bill proposes ratifying the emergency decree to deregulate the state, which has triggered controversy and rejection among opposition caucuses.

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