With the support of the different opposition caucuses, yesterday the Lower House passed a bill establishing limits to the increases in utility bills implemented by the government this year. The initiative received 133 votes in favor, 94 against, and three abstentions – all from deputy members of the caucus lead by Martín Lousteau.
The bill will now move on to the Upper House, where its fate will largely depend on the votes of the senators’ part of the Partido Justicialista (PJ) led by Miguel Ángel Pichetto, as the Cambiemos coalition does not have the 37 votes necessary to quash it, and the other opposition caucuses would not be able to pass it on their own without its support either.
Pichetto has signaled his support for the bill, but has already called for the debate to be less dramatic than it has been in the Lower House. However, barring a sudden change of heart in the Executive, the bill is set to perish anyway: government officials have reiterated time and time again that President Mauricio Macri will veto it, should it reach his desk.
The initiative has been drafted by non-Kirchnerite Peronists in the Justicialista and Federal Unidos por una Nueva Argentina caucuses with support – and some dissent – from the Frente para la Victoria.
While there have been multiple bills drafted with regard to utilities, the version with the broadest support from the opposition sets out that for residential users, electricity and natural gas bills cannot increase at a rate greater than wages and that they be rolled back to November 2017 levels. In addition, the draft sets out that increases in utilities for small businesses and cooperatives must not be greater than the inflation rate for wholesale goods.
The eventual law would set a 60-day deadline since its coming into effect for the companies providing the different services to give the benefited users credit for the increases implemented since November. However, the bill would not reach residential users who consume more than a determinate amount of gas and electricity, since, because of this, they would be considered to be part of high-income sectors.
During an extensive, 12-hour-long session, deputies from the different camps crossed accusations over who is to blame for the delicate economic situation the country is going through. The arguments from Cambiemos’ representatives in Congress – and the Executive in the past days – about the bill being pure demagoguery, a result of not having to actually administer the country, was met with accusations of economic mismanagement.
On one end, leader of the Cambiemos Caucus in the Lower House, Mario Negri, said “If, perhaps, you had not destroyed the Indec [statistics agency], nor spent the Anses money on the Fútbol Para Todos program, in love with an Argentina that was sinking, maybe today we would not have this problem.”
In contrast, FpV caucus leader Agustín Rossi warned: “the President will have to really think what he is going to do, because the people are upset. When you go door-belling, listen to what people say, they are angry, anguished, worried, and you come across as arrogant and insensitive, only willing to follow one path.”
Meanwhile, the representatives of the Justicialista and Federal Unidos por una Nueva Argentina caucuses, which intend to present themselves as a more dialogue-prone opposition – in contrast with the FpV’s intransigence – stood by their initiative.
“You have changed the targets for inflation, investment and the exchange rate, why can’t the utilities goals, which impact the Argentine people’s purchasing power, be changed? I ask the President to not think so much about the veto. He still has the opportunity to make a call and solve the problem,” said PJ leader Pablo Kosiner.
“I will not admit anyone talking about the opposition being irresponsible. After implementing and standing by a vulnerable and risky financial policy, you can’t come out and talk about irresponsibility. It’s a joke!,” said UNA’s Felipe Solá.
According to La Nación, the cost of the measure would be roughly AR $80 billion, while the opposition assures the figure is actually AR $26 billion.