Argentine lower house approves Macri's budget, next stop Senate

FILE PHOTO - Argentina's President Mauricio Macri arrives for a ceremony at the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina September 27, 2018. Picture taken September 27, 2018 REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s lower house of Congress approved President Mauricio Macri’s austere 2019 budget bill early on Thursday, a political victory for the first term leader as he tries to make steep spending cuts demanded by the International Monetary Fund.

The spending plan now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to be voted on next month. Up for re-election in 2019, Macri negotiated a $57 billion financing deal with the Fund calling for the government to erase its primary fiscal deficit from a projected 2.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2018.

The lower house vote was 138 to 103 with 8 abstentions after an 18-hour debate that started midday on Wednesday and was marred by violent protests outside the capitol complex, where anti-riot police fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.

Thousands of activists led by teachers, social organizations and leftist groups opposed to Macri’s austerity measures peacefully protested in front of Congress on Wednesday, but small clusters of marchers threw stones and debris at police during the marches. Federal police said 18 people were arrested by late afternoon on Wednesday.

Fed up with the recession exacerbated by public utility subsidy cuts that have jacked up household heating and electric bills, Argentines are pessimistic about Macri’s ability to stabilize the economy with his orthodox policies, according to recent public opinion polling.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein, additional writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Richard Balmforth