After an interminable session that lasted almost 17 hours, deputies in Congress’s Lower House finally approved the Employment Emergency bill that seeks to put a stop to public and private sector layoffs for six months and force employers to hand out double severance packages to workers if they do fire any.
However, since it was known from the very beginning that the law was destined to perish with President Mauricio Macri’s veto, what was really at stake in the session was political capital. And Renewal Front (FR) leader and Deputy Sergio Massa lost a great deal of it.
Why? He didn’t manage to impose his party’s modified version of the bill and had to vote on the one pushed forward by the Victory Front (FpV) and the Justicialist Caucus (PJ,) the opposition parties considered to be the victors in this “game.” Most pundits analyzed this as a failure from Massa in his attempt to position himself as an opposition leader.
Let’s look at how things went.
During the weeks prior to today’s voting , several opposition parties — the FpV, the FR, the Leftist parties — presented their own Employment Emergency bills. In fact, there were five different bills that were approved by the Lower House’s special committees, enabling them to be debated on the floor.
The bills all showed some small differences. For example, besides prohibiting layoffs for six months and compelling employers to hand out double severance packages like the FpV’s bill does, the FR’s also proposed a series of measures aimed at helping small and medium-sized companies (PYMEs). However, what seemed more important in this case was who managed to build consensus around their own project, since everyone pretty much knew it was destined to die anyway (via veto).
Las week, it seemed Massa had the upper hand when his party prevented the FpV from reaching quorum — the number of deputies necessary to hold a session — and hold a session to pass its project. Massa had stated on Tuesday that his 39 deputies — key for both Macri’s Cambiemos coalition and the FpV to reach quorum in the Lower House — would only attend the special session if certain modifications to the bill were made. He tipped the scale in favor of the session’s failure, making it look like the opposition would have to cave to his party’s demands if they wanted get a bill out.
However, everything suddenly changed this week when Macri’s administration got fed up of having the debate monopolize the political conversation and made a decision that killed Massa’s hopes to rally the opposition: In order to accelerate the inevitable veto, Cambiemos’ deputies helped the FpV form quorum in yesterday’s session and abstained from voting to facilitate the bill’s approval.
This put Massa and his deputies at a crossroads: They had to decide whether to support a law they didn’t entirely agree with or side with the government in its rejection of the law.
They went for first option. Since most FR deputies who have links to unions had anticipated their decision to support the law, the entire caucus, except for José Ignacio de Mendiguren — who has a corporate background — backed the project to avoid having a split vote and show discord within the party.
FR Lower House caucus leader Graciela Camaño explained the party’s decision before announcing her vote: “[Cambiemos’] abstention changes the scenario and since we share the spirit of the bill that was passed in the Senate we’ll vote in favor,” she said.
When he found out about the move, Massa told Cambiemos’ Lower House caucus leader, Mario Negri, that the government had “flip flopped like a pancake” (this is not the actual expression he used but it means the same thing), but admitted defeat anyway and conceded the government used a valid political tool to get its way:
“It’s part of the political game. I didn’t like it when we supported the government to get the country out of default and some accused us of colluding with them, it seemed like an offense to our deputies. In the same way I respect the use of these tools in the political game to get a result,” said Massa. However, he went on to warn the government that vetoing the law wold be a “serious mistake.”
Several members of Macri’s administration have confirmed over and over that the bill will be vetoed, probably tomorrow.