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ARGENTINA | 18-01-2024 19:29

Pichetto’s caucus blocks Milei government over Omnibus bill

Deputies belonging to caucus headed by dissident Peronist and ex-VP candidate Miguel Ángel Pichetto impose themselves, halting the government drive.

La Libertad Avanza’s hope of swift Congress committee approval for its reform mega-package has hit a wall due to some experienced lawmakers who know the tricks of the trade.

The ruling party is in such a hurry that Speaker Martín Menem even tried to secure a weekend session for Saturday, but his bid lost steam after the intervention of lawmakers led by dissident Peronist lawmaker Miguel Ángel Pichetto.

Deputies belonging to the Hacemos Coalición Federal caucus headed by Miguel Ángel Pichetto imposed their requirement of an ordered committee draft of the so-called ‘Omnibus bill’ or ‘Omnibus law – which carries the formal title of "Ley de Bases y puntos de partida para la libertad de los argentinos") – on the Speaker, halting the government drive. 

Pichetto is a veteran member of both houses with decades of experience who knows Congress procedure inside out – as do many of his caucus allies.

Wednesday’s sixth plenary committee session ended with this scenario as the government and allied caucuses were denied any date for a committee draft.

"We’ll take another look when the forces of heaven are so inclined and when liberty advances," was the ironic phrase of an unnamed Unión por la Patria deputy to describe the state of play in the extraordinary period of sessions, according to reporting by Parlamentario.com. 

Quite apart from dates, negotiations are gridlocked around two key aspects of the bill which the moderate opposition is intent on amending: the suspension of the mechanism for updating pensions and increased export duties. 

Other factors could be added to those two essential issues such as the length of the emergency period, the delegation of legislative prerogatives, privatisations and the foreign debt.

If the government adopts an intransigent position against accepting any change, with both the Hacemos and Unión Cívica Radical caucuses reproaching them in the last few weeks for "not allowing themselves to be helped," they may produce their own committee draft and put it to a vote. 

 

‘This must be debated’

Senator Martín Lousteau, the new Radical party chairman since late last year, hit out at both the bill and President Javier Milei’s sweeping emergency decree this week.

“The DNU emergency decree is unconstitutional but furthermore the government does not want to debate its contents because they are not forming the Bicameral Commission nor naming its deputies,” he alleged. “On the one hand, they seek to rush through a mega-law and and on the other, validate the DNU without discussion, which is what the Radical party is ordering for Congress as respecting the law”

“We have a volatile economy but this legal package of 664 articles shakes up the lives of every Argentine, not only the economy but working life, private contracts, the civil and criminal codes, land ownership, forestry, health, education, the fisheries, fossil fuels, the sale and purchase of medicine, protests, the electoral and party systems, a tax whitewash and cultural aspects of Argentine life... The truth is that all this must be debated,” concluded Lousteau.

Those following the legislative negotiations closely find the chapter of the omnibus bill seeking to validate President Javier Milei’s DNU of economic deregulation to be shaky, a fact conceded by the government itself.

Following suspicions that the articles were drafted with the counsel of major private law firms and not state officials, the government has now confirmed that the measures have no prior backing in any technical report, the Página/12 newspaper reported.

"If it is proved that no officials worked on the DNU but only private lawyers, that would be cause for annulment," Vilma Ibarra, the Legal and Technical Secretary of the Alberto Fernández administration, observed on Wednesday.

DNU mastermind, former Central Bank governor Federico Sturzenegger, has no direct relationship with the government and holds no official post, despite promoting the initiative and even appearing at Milei’s side when the measure was announced via nationwide broadcast. 

This lack of official status exempted Sturzenegger from having to appear in Congress to explain the DNU.

 

Mass criticism

A communiqué issued by over 1,500 personalities from the cultural, scientific, political and trade union worlds opposes the reforms proposed by the Milei government with the "Mega DNU" already in force. The signatories include Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof, Senator Eduardo "Wado" de Pedro, Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, historian Felipe Pigna, the actresses Cecilia Roth and Dolores Fonzi, social activist Juan Grabois, trade unionists like Pablo Moyano and Hugo Yasky and several ex-ministers of the Frente de Todos administration among many others.

Apart from urging support for next Wednesday’s general strike, they insist that the "need for an integral rejection of this destructive plan" demands the following:

  1. The repeal of DNU 70/2023 in its entirety;

  2. The rejection of the omnibus bill in its entirety;

  3. Quashing any measure against democratic rights and liberties;

  4. Compensation for the loss of purchasing-power via the mechanisms appropriate to each sector (index-linking, collective bargaining, social policies, etc.).

 

– TIMES/PERFIL

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