Argentina lawmakers debate Milei’s ‘omnibus’ economic reform bill

Opposition has pledged to block the president’s mega-bill to reform the economy, politics and even some aspects of private life.

Argentinian politician Romina del Pla looks on while displaying a placard on her desk that reads ‘Down with Milei’s plan’ during a debate on the president’s economic reform bill, at the National Congress, in Buenos Aires [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]Published On 31 Jan 202431 Jan 2024

Argentina’s lower house of Congress has begun what is expected to be a marathon debate on libertarian President Javier Milei’s mega-bill to reform the economy, politics and even some aspects of private life.

The government raced to secure votes for the key “omnibus” reform bill on Wednesday, even as the left-leaning opposition pledged to block it.

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The bill initially contained 664 articles, but has lost almost half of these in tough negotiations with the opposition, which largely outnumbers Milei’s Libertad Avanza party that has just 38 of the 257 seats in the lower house of Congress.

The bill is one the main planks in Milei’s reform push to tackle the South American country’s worst economic crisis in decades, with inflation over 200 percent and state coffers running dry.

It marks the president’s first major test since the self-described “anarchocapitalist” took office in December after a shock election win in which he campaigned with a chainsaw pledging to slash spending and the size of the state.

Milei, 53, faces a challenge to win over allies and push the bill through. His government yanked a divisive fiscal section from the bill last week to boost support.

“Today, politicians have the chance to start reversing the damage they’ve caused the Argentine people,” Milei’s office said, urging lawmakers to support the bill.

In a sign of the challenge ahead, the main Peronist opposition bloc Union por la Patria, which is the largest single grouping in the National Congress of Argentina, said it would reject the bill, posting a picture with a slogan: “No to the Omnibus bill” on X.

“We reject the Omnibus bill because it puts fuel in Milei’s chainsaw to hurt the daily lives of Argentines,” wrote Peronist politician and former Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero, a reference to his austerity plans to undo a deep fiscal deficit.

Milei began his term in office by devaluing the peso by more than 50 percent, cutting state subsidies for fuel and transport, reducing the number of ministries by half, and scrapping hundreds of rules so as to deregulate the economy.

His massive reform package touches on all areas of public and private life, from privatisations to cultural issues, the penal code, and divorce, to the status of football clubs.

On Wednesday, outside the legislature, hundreds of protesters gathered to express their unhappiness with the reform bill, the AFP news agency reported.

Moderate opposition lawmakers have warned they will seek further changes to the bill, in particular on the touchy issue of the delegation of special powers to the executive in an economic emergency, and on the scope and extent of privatisations.

If the law is approved in the lower chamber – a debate that will likely extend beyond Wednesday – it would move next week to the Senate.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies