December 11, 2013
Budget won’t budge
The Budget 2014 bill submitted to Congress by the national government was always going to be very much about economic numbers. If you ask President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration Argentina is looking at an annual inflation rate of 10.2 percent, an exchange rate of 6.33 pesos per dollar, and a steep annual growth forecast of 6.2 percent. The Budget has also prompted speculation, especially by opposition economists, that some belt-tightening could be on the way in 2014 because revenue is expected to grow 27 percent next year while public spending will only increase 15 percent. But once the bulky budget books were plonked on the desk of the Lower House of Congress earlier this month a whole new numbers game started. The raw and basic question then being if the ruling Victory Front coalition would muster the 129 quorum in the 257-seat Lower House to pass the bill.
Here’s the news. The Budget was approved 134-113 before the crack of dawn yesterday in the Lower House of Congress after a long debate. But not before the ruling Victory Front coalition’s grip on the chamber was tested to the limit after it lost the primary elections in all the major districts last month. The jockeying, especially in the Peronist party, was supposed to start after the midterm elections are held in October. But already there was a lot of congressional shifting and shoving before the Budget debate opened on Wednesday. The outcome of the late-night vote shows that the opposition is possibly over-anxious to wrestle the Congress away from the Kirchnerites even before the election contest is technically over. It was not to be. The budget bill, the extension of the cheque tax and the economic emergency were all approved with relative comfort by the Victory Front when it clinched the extra support of a Radical from Corrientes province, two lawmakers loyal to the San Luis province government and the Salta conservative Alfredo Olmedo. The bill was even backed by a congressman from Tierra del Fuego who had vowed to quit Kirchnerism to join the ranks of Tigre Mayor Sergio Massa (the slayer of the Victory Front in Buenos Aires province last month).
The Budget vote shows that the opposition has always had its own problems in getting an act together. The Lower House is the chamber of contradictions, regardless of what political hue you might side with. Like many of the numbers included in the Kirchnerite Budget, the opposition can also be prone to wishful thinking. The saga now moves to the Senate.