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ARGENTINA | 19-12-2019 22:16

Fernandez paves way for changes as Congress debates emergency law

President says in message posted on Twitter that he wants lawmakers to "improve" legislative package, saying he has the votes to pass bill but wants to "build trust among everyone."

Congress was debating the Alberto Fernández administration's so-called "Ley de Emergencia" legislative package deep into Thursday night, as the president indicated he was open to changes to the bill.

Just nine days after he was sworn-in as Argentina's new leader, the Peronist leader faces a litmus test for his presidency in the nation's Congress as he pushes a crucial piece of legislation that he believes will put the country back on its feet. 

In a series of posts on Twitter on Thursday, Fernández indicated he was open to changes in the law, saying that he had enough votes to push the law through, but would rather seek consensus.

"I have suggested to the president of our bench of lawmakers [in the lower house] that we improve the law that is being debated today," said Fernández.

"We have the necessary votes to approve the bill in its current version. But we want to build trust among everyone, so that nobody doubts our sincere purposes," he wrote.

The ruling Frente de Todos caucus (Peronist) achieved quorum at 4pm at local time for a session that will last for at least 14 hours, legislative sources told AFP. Should the lower house approve the bill, it would reach the Senate – which now has a Peronist majority – on Friday. 

The legislative package would, among other measures, introduce a series of new taxes, a 30-percent levy on the 'tourist dollar' and free public utility tariffs for 180 days. Other measures include a 10,000-peso bonus for low-income pensioners, and more than two million food cards for the most disadvantaged families.

The country's powerful agricultural producers will also be hit by proposals to effectively raise duties on soybean exports to 33 percent, with a 15-percent levy on corn and wheat. Reports on Thursday suggested that measure might be cushioned, with Fernández seeking to avoid confrontation with the sector.

"The law is called 'Social Solidarity' and that the right word, what is needed, when the emergency is economic, health, financial, fiscal, debt," declared Frente de Todos deputy Carlos Heller during a session in the Chamber of Deputies on Thursday.

Opposition lawmaker Luis Pastori, however, rejected that claim.

"We recognise that in these four years the economy fell and poverty and inflation increased, with public debt with liquidity problems. But [the Mauricio Macri government] also lowered the fiscal deficit and primary public spending and lowered tax pressure. Unemployment fell a little. Are we really in emergency?" he asked.

Speaking prior to the debate, Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero called on lawmakers to pass the bill, warning that "the economy is in virtual default and 40 percent of our inhabitants are [living] below the poverty line."

In her typically outspoken style, Cambiemos heavyweight and national deputy Elisa Carrió, who will step down in 2020, compared Fernández to Julius Caesar, saying his quest to win "super powers" for the Executive branch was akin to the actions of a dictator.

"The rights and freedom of Argentines would remain in the hands of Alberto Fernández for six months,"  she warned.

– TIMES/NA/AFP

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