Voting Resumes Tuesday as Argentina’s Milei Enters Second Round in Campaign for His Omnibus Reform Bill

A battle is emerging between provincial and national authority, and the question is what measures will remain in whatever bill reaches the senate.

AP/Markus Schreiber
President Milei at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2024. AP/Markus Schreiber

Voting will resume at Buenos Aires at 2 p.m Tuesday, with the 257 members of Argentina’s lower congressional chamber, the Chamber of Deputies, gathering to debate key components of President Milei’s omnibus reform bill in a second-round review. 

The bill passed Friday with 363 of its original 664 articles remaining, after three days of back and forth. One sign the second round will be shorter than the first comes as Mr. Milei’s ruling party agreed with the opposition bloc to vote by chapters, rather than articles, according to the largest newspaper in Argentina, Clarín.

One official in the Milei camp told Clarín the vote “could easily extend to Wednesday and also Thursday.” The plunder is still up for grabs, with at least seven key pieces of the bill identified as particularly open to debate.

Clarín’s analysis includes: privatization of public companies, delegation of legislative faculties to the executive, modification of glacier laws to enable economic activity in periglacial zones, cultural changes, extending jurisdiction to New York for dispute cases, modifications to the penal code, and a mechanism to guarantee provincial pension funds.

To complicate matters further, the dispute is not only between Mr. Milei’s leading coalition and the opposition bloc, but also with provincial governors. The province of La Rioja is printing its own quasi-currency to pay public employees, the Financial Times reported — a short-term alternative to Mr. Milei’s long-term, growth-oriented austerity policies.

The provincial legislature is set to issue 22.5 billion pesos ($28 million) in the form of “bocades,” or provincial bonds. The move by La Rioja could incentivize the government to hasten the second-round review before additional provinces can join the push for quasi-currency to undermine Mr. Milei’s economic plan.

The battle between provincial and national authority is marked by another element of the bill and making headlines in Argentina: the PAIS tax. The tax applies to direct or indirect purchases of foreign currency, which is then used as payment for imported goods and services. 

Although the revenues from PAIS provide funds for provincial governors, Mr. Milei has already made it clear he would veto any attempt to get him to co-sponsor the tax. The minister of the interior, Guillermo Francos, is cautioning the deputies against this measure in discussion with Radio Rivadavia.

The PAIS tax is set to expire at the end of this year, per the Argentinian government’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The challenges that lie ahead may be found not only in the legislation, but also in the political personas. An Argentianian historian and political analyst, Rosendo Fraga, notes Mr. Milei’s lack of political experience and the lack of cohesion on his negotiation team. 

Mr. Fraga says Mr. Milei’s biggest challenge will be “sharing power in order to exercise power.” The head of the Freedom Advances bloc, Oscar Zago, told Clarín that the governing coalition “did not give in” and simultaneously reached “agreement on a lot of points.”

Regarding the specific measure of delegating legislative power to the executive, Mr. Zago says “all governments” have ceded powers to the president “for many years.” The coming days will be a battle in Argentina’s lower chamber. After the rocky waters of the Chamber of Deputies, the omnibus bill’s journey will be smooth sailing through the upper chamber of the Senate. One question endures: By the time the bill  reaches the Senate, how much of it will remain?

The New York Sun

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