Despite Second Day of Violence, Congress Passes Pension Reform Bill

127 votes - enough to secure majority for contested bill.

347
(Photo via Wikipedia)

The government’s pension reform bill made it through the Lower House early this morning with 127 votes in favour, 117 against, and 2 abstentions. The close vote came after more than 17 hours of debate on the floor and scenes of violence outside, as well as peaceful protests and an impromptu cacerolazo across the city.

The vote brought a close to a tense day that featured violence, arrests, injuries, running battles outside Congress and mutual accusations and appeals from the opposition for the session to be called off and the bill to be reviewed and amended, all of which were voted down repeatedly.

The pension reform bill was approved early this morning after hours of tension and violence.
The pension reform bill was approved early this morning after hours of tension and violence.

 

According to Télam, as of this morning 60 people had been arrested, more than 50 people had received medical attention and 88 police officers were being treated for injuries. Among those injured were several journalists who were covering the protest. Many of those arrested have already been released from custody.

Support for the reform came from the ruling Cambiemos coalition and, as expected, from provincial parties and Peronist lawmakers closely aligned with the governors that had come out in favor of the bill hours before the session started. As such, Governors Juan Schiaretti (Córdoba), Juan Manzur (Tucumán), Domingo Peppo (Chaco), Gustavo Bordet (Entre Ríos), Mariano Arcioni (Chubut), Gustavo Valdés (Corrientes), Omar Gutiérrez (Neuquén) and Hugo Passalacqua (Misiones) guaranteed votes in favor of the reform as the Bloque Justicialista caucus (that’s to say, the opposition). No less than 19 lawmakers from opposition parties voted with Cambiemos, enough to secure the necessary majority.

Governors and Cabinet officials met in the Lower House yesterday, shoring up support for the pension reform bill (Credit / Argentine presidency handout)
Governors and Cabinet officials met in the Lower House yesterday, shoring up support for the pension reform bill (Credit / Argentine presidency handout)

 

Votes against the reform came from the Victory Front, Renewal Front and the left, as well as a handful of lawmakers from provincial parties. Some in the Bloque Justicialista voted against the reform, such as Diego Bossio, former director of the ANSES, the social security agency that manages pensions.

Ten lawmakers were absent from the vote, with the most noteworthy being Daniel Scioli, former governor of Buenos Aires and a member of the Victory Front caucus.

In her closing arguments, Graciela Camaño of the Renewal Front said that the reform represented an effort to “solve money problems with people’s lives, with their future.” The veteran lawmaker added that according to her point of view, the formula “doesn’t work” in years of low inflation. The bill changes the formula used to calculate pension increases.  Agustín Rossi, also voting against the reform, said that “the government is looking for an index that hurts pensioners, and we’re here to say no to that new index” while also accusing the Macri administration of following the suggestions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Defending the bill while also allowing that his caucus was split on the matter, lawmaker Néstor David said that the reform was part of a commitment that the provinces had agreed to that would grant them greater autonomy.

In a break with common practice, Cambiemos chair Mario Negri declined to make closing arguments in favour of the bill and simply asked Speaker Emilio Monzó to commence the voting. “Instead of what I normally do, this time my responsibilities indicate I do something else. A responsible opposition does not distribute matches when there’s gasoline around. Mr. Speaker, start the vote” Negri said.

Demonstrators shout slogans at the Olivos Presidential Residence last night. (Reuters /Martín Acosta)
Demonstrators shout slogans at the Olivos Presidential Residence last night. (Reuters /Martín Acosta)

 

Macri will sign a decree shortly that will set out the terms of the one-off payment for pensioners that was agreed with the governors. Assuming that the president enacts the law soon, the next phase of opposition to the reform is likely to take the form of more protests and legal challenges. Last night, the porteños took to the streets banging pots and pans in the traditional cacerolazo protest, eventually congregating in front of Congress after midnight to signal their rejection of the bill. Similar protests took place in major cities across the country. Skirmishes were reported after the Buenos Aires protest.

The Lower House resumes work this afternoon as it votes on tax reform.