* Lawmakers send bill back to committee for revision
* Government plans to extend 2010 budget if bill blocked
* Bill calls for $7.5 bln in foreign reserves to pay debt
* President could issue decree to tap reserves
(Rewrites first paragraph, adds cabinet chief's comments,
impact on bonds)
By Eduardo Garcia and Hilary Burke
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 11 Argentine lawmakers
postponed a vote on Thursday on the government's 2011 budget
bill, but defiant officials said President Cristina Fernandez
will simply extend this year's framework if the bill stalls.
The delay is a setback for the center-left leader, whose
drive to tap up to $7.5 billion in central bank reserves to pay
debt would free up more money for social spending ahead of next
October's presidential election.
After debating for hours, legislators in the lower house
narrowly voted to send the budget bill back to committee to
consider changes requested by the opposition.
The current congressional session ends Nov. 30, leaving
little time for both houses of Congress to vote on the budget
plan. Cabinet Chief Anibal Fernandez said the government would
probably not call for additional sessions if the bill stalls.
"What the president will do when the time comes is extend
the budget, as the ... law dictates, and we'll continue with
the 2010 budget. We have no choice, they've forced us into
this," he told local television.
If the 2011 budget is not passed, the government will be
able to use decrees to redirect and increase spending.
President Fernandez could also issue a decree to tap
foreign currency reserves to repay private creditors, ignoring
opposition to the proposal.
Her move to use $4.4 billion in reserves this year sparked
a political crisis, but ultimately her political rivals were
unable to block the measure . [ID:nN06209372]
The president says it is smarter to repay debts using these
funds, as opposed to selling bonds on the market at high rates.
But opposition politicians say the plan to tap reserves could
further fuel high inflation.
Argentine bonds were trading slightly lower on Thursday in
thin volume because of a U.S. market holiday.
"I don't think the budget issue will affect bonds' overall
tendency to firm," said Juan Diedrichs, an analyst at Capital
Markets Argentina. "Debt prices are responding more these days
to global market movement and the rising value of soy."
Bond prices in the grains-exporting country have risen
nearly 25 percent since June, reflecting investor appetite for
emerging market assets because of rock-bottom U.S. interest
Fernandez lost her congressional majority in a June 2009
midterm election, and opposition leaders have been trying to
seize the initiative since, with few concrete results.
They have lambasted the government budget bill, which
forecasts inflation at 8.4 percent next year. Private
economists predict it will be two to three times higher.
They also criticize the bill's conservative economic growth
and tax revenue projections, which would let the government
spend "extra" income without congressional oversight, a common
practice in recent years. [ID:nN16110959]
"(The budget bill) is a sham ... Revenue is underestimated
and there will be excess income because the economy grows and
above all because there is (high) inflation," Felipe Sola, a
lawmaker from a dissident faction within the ruling Peronist
party, told local reporters.
Alfonso Prat Gay, an opposition lawmaker and former central
bank president, estimated the government has had access to 150
billion pesos (some $37 billion) in "additional" revenue during
the last six years because of the budget's erroneous
Government officials defend the budget's conservative
projections, arguing they are being fiscally prudent.
(Additional reporting by Karina Grazina and Walter Bianchi;
Editing by Padraic Cassidy)