Bolsonaro’s on-again, off-again relationship with Congress

. Jul 03, 2019
rodrigo maia bolsonaro congress

President Jair Bolsonaro began his term with a pledge to inaugurate a new era in Brazilian politics, one free from shady negotiations based on horse-trading schemes. But the administration soon found out the hard way that while politics is not necessarily a criminal activity, one must have communication skills and savvy to approve anything in a Congress as fragmented as Brazil’s.

Six months into his administration, Jair Bolsonaro still has a fragile relationship with the legislature—which has been rocked further by scandals and outraged tweets. The heads of both congressional houses have called the government, on the record, “clumsy” and a “crisis factory”—with House Speaker Rodrigo Maia saying the president should be more concerned about passing bills than posting on Twitter.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As a result, the government&#8217;s reformist agenda has stalled. While Congress is preparing for its July vacations, there appears to be no time left to vote the pension reform bill on the floor of the House of Representatives.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Data collected by newspaper </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Estado de S.Paulo</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> shows that, due to a lack of dialogue with the Legislative branch, the government spent a grand total of </span><a href=",em-seis-meses-de-governo-pauta-de-bolsonaro-nao-engrena-na-camara,1010080"><span style="font-weight: 400;">42 days without sending voting guidelines to its caucus</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. Only former President Dilma Rousseff, famous for her political isolation, had a similar track record. During that same 42-day span—between March 26 and May 7—there was another bump on the road: Speaker Rodrigo Maia found himself at the receiving end of </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">presidential son Carlos Bolsonaro&#8217;s Twitter artillery</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A healthy relationship between the administration and Congress is what dictates the tempo of the legislature—making it easier of harder to pass reforms. Looking back at the past six months, Congress has taken the agenda into its own hands, focusing on economic issues and ignoring the conservative behavioral agenda backed by President Bolsonaro.</span></p> <h2>Economy first</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since taking office, this </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">administration has issued 18 provisional decrees</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, 15 bills, and one proposal for a constitutional amendment to parliament. The government&#8217;s crown jewel is its pension reform, which has suffered constant delays due to a lack of unity on the government&#8217;s end. Even the president&#8217;s party is trying to water the bill down.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Congressman Samuel Moreira—the reform&#8217;s rapporteur in the House special committee—has tweaked the bill in an attempt to reach a consensus, but a vote in the committee—which precedes the roll-call vote—has dragged on for weeks now.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But even if the reform is stalled, whatever progress it has made so far is due to the engagement of Rodrigo Maia, as opposed to the government. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Similar results have been seen in the pro-business agenda. While a provisional decree allowing airlines to be owned by foreign capital—an inheritance from the former government—was approved, a similar decree to reform sanitation legislation expired. To avoid losing billions in investments, the government supported a regular bill that mirrored the executive order, but that is not to say it has made much progress. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There is, however, one specific piece of progress that may help Mr. Bolsonaro avoid these situations in the future. Both the House and Senate approved a constitutional amendment </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">establishing deadlines for the deliberation of provisional decrees</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, solving a longstanding demand of senators who claimed their colleagues in the lower house took too long to decide on these measures, leaving little time for the Senate to make its own decision. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The test for this new law will likely be the “Economic Freedom” provisional decree, which is still </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">being analyzed by a special committee</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. The proposal was part of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s campaign pledges and aims to simplify Brazilian bureaucracy. </span></p> <h2>Conservative agenda second</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the economy is a pivotal point for the country, the president’s support base also depends on his more conservative, social behavior-based platform. However, in this regard, his proposals are much more susceptible to the tide of scandals and public opinion. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The most flagrant example of all is the anti-crime bill proposed by Justice Minister Sergio Moro. Although it has never been properly analyzed in Congress, lawmakers have essentially shelved the government&#8217;s leading proposal for public security in light of </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8216;s leaks of messages between Mr. Moro (from when he was a federal judge) and prosecutors from Operation Car Wash, leading to doubts about his impartiality. On Tuesday, Sergio Moro sat in front of a House committee to defend himself from calls for his resignation, weeks after going to the Senate for the same reason.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Meanwhile, senators shot down two firearms decrees as a result of public backlash. The measures sought to loosen criteria for gun ownership and extended the right to carry permits to several professions, including politicians, journalists, and truck drivers. Fearing a defeat in Congress, Jair Bolsonaro revoked the decrees and chose to issue four new ones, but the resistance towards the issue remains. </span></p> <h2>Round two<span style="font-weight: 400;"> </span></h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When the Legislative and Executive branches cannot find common ground, the battle usually ends up in the Supreme Court. So far, the members of the court have granted the government one very important victory in the economic area, allowing </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">state-owned subsidiaries to be sold without congressional approval</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. But, when it comes to other areas, justices have already signaled they won’t let the president rule as he pleases. In June, Justice </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Luís Roberto Barroso blocked a provisional measure</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> sending Funai—Brazil&#8217;s indigenous affairs agency—to the purview of the Ministry of Agriculture, after lawmakers ruled to keep it under the umbrella for the Ministry of Justice.

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Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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