Cabinet Chef Marcos Peña. (Photo via Noticias Argentinas)

As popular discontent over utilities hikes grows, the Casa Rosada has invited Cambiemos’ congressional leaders to a meeting in the presidential palace today to discuss alternatives to their implementation. The controversy surrounding the dramatic increases in utility bills has dominated the news cycle since the beginning of the month.

The meeting follows several days of harsh criticism directed at the government – from the opposition, but also from Cambiemos’ two minority parties, the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) and the Coalición Cívica (CC) – and a day after the opposition called a special session in Congress aimed at rolling back prices of utilities to January 2018 values, before the last wave of hikes.

The attempt proved futile, however, as the opposition caucuses fell one short of garnering the 129 deputies necessary to muster quorum and formally debate the bill before 12 PM, when the session was lifted.

The bills, however, were going to fail regardless: as the opposition called for a special session, the bills did not go through the regular legislative process. They were not approved by a special committee before reaching the floor. And therefore, they would need two thirds of the deputies present in the House to be passed. And since the Cambiemos caucus has more than one third of the members of the Chamber, they would have only had to show up and vote against the bills to quash them.

But even though the government remained intransigent – even President Mauricio Macri said yesterday that ‘nothing of what you are told is free is really free’ – it decided to call Cambiemos’ congressional leaders to explore alternatives to help mitigate the hikes’ negative impact on the population.

In fact, this discontent was illustrated last night, as people in different cities throughout the country took the streets to protest with a “ruidazo” – i.e by banging pots, pans and/or anything that makes a loud noise.

Photo via: Gómez Ramiro/AMB. Télam
Photo via: Gómez Ramiro/AMB. Télam

 

The meeting will take place at 11 AM in the Casa Rosada and the following officials are expected to attend: UCR Head and Mendoza Governor Alfredo Cornejo; leader of the Cambiemos caucus in the Lower House (and a UCR member) Mario Negri; Coalición Cívica member Juan Manuel López; Lower House President Emilio Monzó; PRO caucus in the Lower House leader Nicolás Massot and Deputy Cabinet Chiefs Mario Quintana and Gustavo Lopetegui.

“Thank God a negotiation instance has been opened, [the] reason the session has been postponed for next week. It is worth highlighting the attitude of Mr. Marcos Peña to achieve this,” Deputy Carrió tweeted in celebration.

Negri warned that the UCR will present the Casa Rosada with a project for the cost of the bills to be apportioned throughout the year, so the price does not increase exponentially during the months when more energy is consumed – typically during winter. The proposal also seeks for 50 percent of the last set of increases be postponed until October 2019; and also postpone the increases in the so-called “social tariff” – available to low income families – for two months, and apply it gradually.

Carrió, from her side, suggested dividing the hikes in installments. If consensus regarding any of them is reached, the goal is to meet with the more dialogue-prone congressional caucuses – particularly the Partido Justicialista (PJ) – next week. Before yesterday’s failed session, PJ representatives, along with deputies from the Frente Renovador (FR), introduced their own bill.

All that remains now is to see what kind of bill Cambiemos comes up with next week and the kind of response it generates from the opposition.