Wednesday, February 19, 2020
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ARGENTINA | 20-12-2019 10:47

Lower House lawmakers back Fernández's economic emergency bill

After a marathon session, lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies voted this morning to approve President Alberto Fernández's economic emergency legislative project, sending the legislation to the Senate.

After a marathon session in the lower house, lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies voted this morning to approve President Alberto Fernández's economic emergency legislative project, sending the legislation to the Senate.

The Fernández administration's legislative package – variously known as the "Ley de Emergencia"  or "Ley de Solidaridad" – was debated deep into the hours of early Friday morning, after the president indicated he was open to changes to the bill.

The "mega-project," as it's been deemed by the local press, won the approval of 134 deputies – from the ruling Frente de Todos coalition and other blocs – and the rejection of 110 lawmakers, after 16 hours of debate. The package is still on the floor, however, as lawmakers tackle it line by line and article by article. 

The debate has gone on so far for around 16 hours. As part of the legislation, a state of emergency will be declared in at least nine areas, including the economy and the healthcare system.

"Six out of ten Argentine children are in poverty. We cannot waste any more time," said Peronist deputy Eduardo Bucca (ruling party)  during the debate, asking his peers to give the initiative the green light.

"It is a bad path [to go down], to concentrate so much power in the government and the emergency is not justified," said opposition leader Mario Negri.

Argentina's economy is currently gripped by crisis, with GDP expected to contract by 3.1 percent this year, debt standing at around 90 percent of GDP, inflation expected to close out the year at around 55 percent and poverty affecting four out of every 10 Argentines.

Package

Just 10 days after he was sworn into office, Fernández looks likely to now pass his first legislative test.  With a Peronist majority in the Senate, the bill's approval seems likely.

Just a few weeks ago, the different Peronist caucuses in the upper house decided to come together into a unified Frente de Todos bloc, a crucial step.

“The caucus will be called Frente de Todos,” Peronist Senator José Mayans, who will head the caucus, said in November. “Our numbers will be very important, we’ll be 41 senators [out of a total of 72] or almost two-thirds. We’ll have a quorum with a majority on all committees.”

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 Juntos por el Cambio deputies and the Frente de Izquierda lawmakers had already announced they would not back the government's bid to reach quorum and open the debate on the law, though they did take their seats earlier to allow the swearing-in of new lawmakers.

Among those who approved the package were Frente de Todos deputies Mara Brawer and Nicolás Rodríguez Saá, and others such as José Igancio De Mendigueren, Daniel Filmus, José Luis Gioja and Andrés Larroque. 

The Senate debate will open later today, under the framework of another emergency session, called by the president.

– TIMES/AFP/PERFIL

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