Saturday, May 18, 2024

ARGENTINA | 12-01-2024 15:11

Congress spars over Milei’s sweeping omnibus reform bill

Government indicates it is open to making concessions as elements of proposed legislation are taken out, despite president’s “all-or-nothing” vow.

Congress opened debate over President Javier Milei’s controversial economic and labour reforms this week, with temperatures regularly boiling over between lawmakers and members of the libertarian leader’s government.

However, the Milei administration has indicated – despite previously vowing not to – that it will accept changes to the head of state’s sweeping ‘Omnibus Law’ bill. A series of concessions that began the previous week with fisheries deregulation continued from Tuesday when Congress discussion of the Javier Milei administration’s 664-article bill began with a plenary session of three committees (Budget, Constitutional Issues and General Legislation).

Perhaps the biggest concession came early when Energy Secretary Eduardo Rodríguez Chirillo admitted the possibility of halving the declaration of a public emergency period from two years renewable to a further two for the entire presidential term, as sought by the government, rolling it back to one year which could be extended a further 12 months.

“This is not about obtaining a blank cheque and closing down Congress but requesting specific things within a determined period, which could be shorter,” the energy official told the deputies without, however, giving any ground on the 11 areas where the government aspires to be delegated legislative powers – economic, social, financial, fiscal, pensions, security, defence, public service billing, energy, health and public administration.

The next day it was the turn of Interior Minister Guillermo Francos, whose four-hour defence of the omnibus bill throughout Wednesday morning included the admission that the government lacked the votes for its electoral reform proposals (including elimination of the PASO primaries and a single paper ballot). Francos was followed by Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, who axed one of the 664 articles altogether – the controversial Article 331 requiring any public gatherings of three or more persons to be authorised by her Ministry.

Behind the scenes other concessions also included biofuels and the privatisation of Banco Nación (with YPF also defended). The other Cabinet presence in Congress during the first two days was Justice Minister Mariano Cúneo Liberona with Infrastructure Minister Guillermo Ferraro set to face the deputies on Thursday. The extraordinary sessions run until the end of this month.

The first official to face the music on Tuesday was Treasury attorney Rodolfo Barra, who argued that “crisis situations require crisis responses.” He was followed by Rodríguez Chirillo and Cúneo Liberona, who offered a largely technical defence of judicial reforms.

The general tone of the first day’s debate suggested that more concessions could be on the cards, despite President Javier Milei’s refusal to negotiate the contents of the law. 

Beyond the frontal opposition of the 102 Unión por la Patria and five leftist deputies (with Kirchnerite ex-Radical Leopoldo Moreau saying: “There is no margin for police states in Argentina” and former leftist presidential candidate Myriam Bregman calling the legislation “arbitrary and “anti-democratic”), several moderate and centre-right deputies were less than positive. PRO deputy Silvia Lospennato said: “We do not believe in self-awarded delegations (of powers) and self-awarded extensions of emergencies” while federalist caucus chief Miguel Angel Pichetto complained of “no strategy, just improvisation.” Unión por la Patria caucus chief Germán Martínez wanted to know why none of the key trio of Cabinet Chief Nicolás Caputo, Economy Minister Luis Caputo nor mega-decree mastermind Federico Sturzenegger were showing their faces in Congress.

The next day Francos admitted to errors in drafting the omnibus law and further recognised that relaxing the limits on political party funding could lead to drug-trafficking rearing its ugly head, apart from admitting that consensus for electoral reform was lacking. The minister also sought to defend the elimination of the PASO primaries by pointing out that last year’s version had cost the state 11 billion pesos.

At the start of the week Francos had reversed gears on changing biofuels legislation after meeting with representatives of the Santa Fe, Córdoba, Tucumán, Entre Ríos and Jujuy provincial governments while in the previous week he had already yielded to pressures from six Patagonian governors along with Mar del Plata Mayor Guillermo Montenegro not to advance with a deregulation opening the fisheries to all comers. Even Entre Ríos PRO governor Rogelio Frigerio questioned the privatisation of YPF and Banco Nación, as well as increased export duties.




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