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ECONOMY | 18-12-2019 20:39

Debate over government's omnibus 'emergency' bill rages on

Lawmakers are set to vote on the massive piece of legislation on Thursday that would formalise the "triple" emergency and set in motion a series of economic reforms to address the crisis

A special legislative session is expected to convene in Congress Thursday to declare a Triple Emergency — economic, sanitary, and social — in Argentina and to vote on the Law of Solidarity and Productive Reactivation, a massive set of laws intended to jumpstart an economic recovery and tackle problems. 

The passage of the 85-article-long 'omnibus bill' has consumed the earliest days of the Alberto Fernandez administration’s time in office. The bill is Fernandez’s first attempt to strike a balance between his voters’ demands for higher social spending and the country’s dire financial situation. It includes sweeping powers for the Executive to renegotiate debt, raise salaries and taxes, while controlling prices of politically-sensitive items such as utilities and medication. 

In addition, the bill would raise export tariffs on the agricultural sector, give a bonus of 10,000 pesos (US$160) to pensioners in two tranches, tax the purchase of foreign currency and a tax hike on personal property and financial assets held abroad. 

But the legislative package has received mixed reviews from lawmakers and Argentines alike, proving the aspirational plan to increase social spending without increasing the deficit may prove harder to achieve than Fernandez had hoped. 

It spent Tuesday in plenary committee debates, during which voices from all parts of the Frente de Todos coalition and the opposition took the chance to voice their opinion. 

Sergio Massa, the speaker of the Lower House of Deputies, assured the public there “would be quorum” to approve the omnibus economic emergency recovery package, saying President Alberto Fernandez “will have the tools to put a devastated Argentina back on its feet.” 

Massa’s comments came during a press conference outside of Congress Tuesday morning. 

Darío Martínez, who heads the budget and treasury committee of the House of Deputies, agreed with Massa that they would have enough people to approve the bill. Martínez added that the given the “state of emergency” the country’s in, it was necessary that they first “rescue” those who have suffered the most. 

“Tomorrow, there will be a law. I don’t have any doubt that Argentina’s democracy will come to fruition,” he said. 

The Frente de Izquierda bloc has come out publicly against the bill, organising a protest in front of Congress for Thursday at the same time lawmakers will be debating the legislation. 

Lawmaker Romina Del Pla said the bill abandons retirees and benefits a financial elite that hold debt and bonds. 

Meanwhile, veteran Peronist lawmaker Miguel Ángel Pichetto criticised the project, likening it the leftist ideology of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. 

“Argentina’s doors can’t be opened to Chavismo,” he said in a Tweet Wednesday.

He expanded on his critique, citing proposed changes to the pension programme, the centralisation of power to the Executive, and the “excess” of delegations represented in the bill as proof of Congress’ “weakened functionality.” 

Along those lines, former security minister Patricia Bullrich, a vocal critic of the new government and the leader of the opposition PRO party, said all the bill did was to “delegate to the president all the power of Congress.” 

Fernandez has continued to defend the package. During the annual lunch with the Business Association Assembly on Wednesday, he said the package was part of the plan presented to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to pay back Argentina’s debt. 

The president told business leaders he’d worked “silently” for two months on this proposal with his team in order to comply with the demands of the IMF. “They asked us to change the logic, to make a sustainable plan to pay back the debt, and they asked us not to come with the same plan as always. They accepted this logic,” he said. “The plan needs a starting point, which is what this law is [...] a law that urges us to get out of the situation of poverty we’re in and begin the march towards productive capacity,” he said. 

He responded to accusations that he wants to consolidate power in the Executive branch with a resounding denial.

“I don’t want to be a president who decides alone,” he said, adding that he planned to ask Congress to create a Social Economic Board as a tool to “create State policies.” 

Assuming enough people attend to reach a quorum, lawmakers are expected to debate and eventually vote on the omnibus package Thursday starting at 6pm. 

--TIMES/NA/PERFIL

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