After three days and more than 30 hours of debate, Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies finally approved Javier Milei’s liberal reform package. It was the first test of support for the newly inaugurated president — which ended in a partial victory, as his original project suffered significant cuts.
The basis of the so-called “bus law” received 144 votes in its favor, more than the 129 needed to be approved. Now, legislators will discuss article by article until they reach the final draft of the legislation, which will then be sent to committees and then to the Senate plenary. Deputies will meet again next Tuesday (6).
Outside the Congress, in the center of Buenos Aires, the debate was marked by tension and protests that ended with dozens of injuries from Wednesday (31) until this Friday (2), when protesters even set fire to objects. Among those injured are at least 32 journalists, as well as 7 police officers, who have been acting in accordance with a new “anti-picketing protocol” that provides for zero tolerance with street blockades.
Inside, the text went through three weeks of intense negotiations and strong clashes of forces in the plenary. This is because Milei only has a small minority in Congress and depends on the support of the so-called “dialogue opposition”, made up of right-wing, center-right and center parties.
In a note on social media, the Presidency celebrated the result and thanked in particular the “collaboration of the deputies and heads of the blocs” that it exerted pressure on in recent weeks. “We hope to count on the same greatness on the day of the specific vote on the law, so that it can advance to the Senate and we can begin to restore dignity to the Argentine people.”
These groups had already demonstrated that they would approve the general form of the text, but that they disagree with the way it addresses some topics, such as the powers of the Legislature granted to the president during the state of emergency, the privatization of state-owned companies and the contraction of external debt without the approval of Congress.
The approved text, with less than 400 of the 664 articles proposed by the government, maintained these central points, but completely eliminated fiscal and electoral reforms, for example. The excluded sections were related to topics such as work, income tax, adjustment of pensions, taxes on imports and exports, energy and fishing.
What the ‘bus law’ says so far
- Gives congressional powers to the president in the economic, financial, security, tariff, energy and administrative fields for one year, extendable for another year
- Allows the Executive to privatize or close state-owned companiesaccording to a list that originally had 41 companies and now has 27
- Extinguishes the “protection of competition” lawwhich prohibits “anticompetitive practices” to “limit or distort competition or market access, or that constitute abuse of a dominant position in a market”
- Prohibits public officials participate in events or use social media for partisan political purposes
The list of companies that can be privatized has also been reduced from 41 to 27 so far. The oil company YPF was one of those removed, while Aerolíneas Argentinas, Correios and the water and sanitation company (Aysa) were maintained. Another three (banking, telecommunications and nuclear energy) can only be partially privatized.
Earlier, the government had minimized the dehydration of the law: “There is no dismantling here, because part of it we ourselves chose to remove to speed up the parliamentary discussion”, said spokesman Manuel Adorni. “I don’t understand why there is so much discussion about three more articles, three less articles. The path is clear and we will do everything necessary to follow it.”
Peronism and the left, which account for 104 of the 109 who voted against, even tried to take the text back to the committees, claiming that it was distorted and that the deputies did not even know what would be voted on, but they were defeated in the plenary.
“We have already said and continue to say: there is another path, and it involves production, industry, work, exports, the internal market, science and technology. Words absolutely absent in the ‘bus law'”, stated the leader of the Peronist bloc, Germán Martínez.
The project, called by the government the “Law of Bases and Starting Points for the Freedom of Argentines”, is one of Milei’s main bets to rebalance the country’s accounts and pave the way for privatizations. He is, however, accused by critics of not having presented a concrete plan to stabilize the economy until now.
The other measure he took to carry out his reforms was a decree of necessity and urgency (DNU) with more than 300 articles. This has been in effect since December, except for the labor part, which was suspended by the courts at the request of unions.
The presidential decree would only cease to be valid if more than half of the Chamber and the Senate reached a quorum and then completely invalidated it. But the bicameral commission that should have received the text was never formed, and there is no prospect of this happening, which has generated protests from the Peronist opposition.
It is not the first time that an Argentine president has imposed a large package of laws on Congress in the first days of his administration. His predecessor, Alberto Fernández, sent a text with 88 articles to the Legislature upon taking office. Before him, Mauricio Macri did the same, presenting a project with 97 points.
But Milei’s proposal is not only more extensive, but also more ambitious than those of his predecessors, seeking progress on controversial issues even without his coalition having a majority in Congress.
The ultraliberal tried to dictate the legislative pace, calling extraordinary sessions until January 31st, but he has already had to extend the deadline for approving the law until February 15th — and will probably have to extend it again.