Pension reform places Rodrigo Maia as one of Brazil’s main power brokers

. Jul 11, 2019
calamity brazil house speaker rodrigo maia

The clock flashed 7:52 pm when House Speaker Rodrigo Maia left his seat and took the stand to address his peers, who feverishly chanted “Rodrigo! Rodrigo!” By that moment, he knew that the pension reform, albeit watered down, was in the bag. 

Mr. Maia made sure to say that the reform was a victory of Congress—not the government. And he praised the main targets of President Bolsonaro’s acolytes: traditional center-right parties (deemed as purveyors of “old politics”), the Supreme Court, and even the opposition. A few jabs directly targeted the president: “Our role is to recover the strength of Congress, it empowers our democracy. […] Long-term investors don’t come to countries in which institutions are attacked.”

</p> <p>Yesterday, <a href="">Brazil&#8217;s lower house passed</a>—in only the first of two votes—the proposal to overhaul the country&#8217;s pension system. There remains a long way to go. First, lawmakers will analyze 15 proposals to amend (i.e. water down) the bill. Then, they must hold a second vote. And senators are still to weigh in, too.</p> <p>However, the unquestionable majority—379 yeas to 131 nays—made Mr. Maia the evening&#8217;s biggest winner. Since the beginning of his tenure as speaker, while Michel Temer was still president, he has supported the proposal. Despite the president&#8217;s efforts to dilute the new retirement rules, of the government&#8217;s constant effort to burning bridges with political groups across the spectrum, Mr. Maia brokered the vote—gaining 71 more votes than required.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/488947"><script src=""></script></div> <h2>The &#8220;Maia Calendar&#8221;</h2> <p>If the president refuses to act as a true head of state (only <a href="">22 percent of Brazilians</a> believe he acts accordingly to his office), Mr. Maia has welcomed the role as a sort of de facto prime minister. He has said, on multiple occasions, that Congress has its own agenda for the country. While the government focuses on ending daylight savings time, the speaker is pushing for a series of economic reforms.</p> <p>From the stand, Mr. Maia revealed what he is aiming at: a <a href="">tax reform</a> and an overhaul of Brazil&#8217;s civil service. &#8220;I won&#8217;t criticize any single civil servant [&#8230;], but this is a fact: [they] earn on average 67 percent more than private workers, with stability and little productivity. And we need to tackle that,&#8221; said Mr. Maia.</p> <p>This agenda has been jokingly called the &#8220;Maia Calendar,&#8221; a pun on the Mayan Calendar.</p> <p>For years, Mr. Maia had limited influence in Congress, being a member of a party that shrank almost to the point of political irrelevance during the Workers’ Party era. But, as the conservative wave took hold of the country, he placed himself as a leader of the moderate right. And his rhetoric—carefully citing all Brazilian regions—indicates national electoral ambitions.</p> <p>His name has surfaced as a possible running mate for São Paulo Governor João Doria, who has not been discrete in showing his <a href="">own presidential ambitions</a>. Back in May, Mr. Maia said the governor could make a &#8220;terrific&#8221; candidate.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="672" src="" alt="rodrigo maia pension reform approved" class="wp-image-20487" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>With tears in his eyes, Rodrigo Maia announces the pension reform vote</figcaption></figure> <h2>Assessing the pension reform</h2> <p>The bill approved by the House is broad, and will have an impact on Brazil&#8217;s public finances in the next decade—but less than the government expected. According to the Senate&#8217;s Independent Fiscal Institution, a think tank on public policy, the rules, as approved on July 10, promote savings of BRL 714 billion in ten years.</p> <p>It creates, for the first time, a minimum retirement age and tackles a few privileged groups. Many, however, have managed to keep their special rules—in an unlikely convergence between the left (which is for public servants and teachers) and the far-right (which defends law enforcement agents).</p> <p>The biggest absence are state- and municipal-level public servants, removed from the bill due to a lack of political coordination.&nbsp;</p> <p>Senators—who will analyze the reform next—are already talking about including state- and municipal-level servants in the reform (a major point of contention in the House). The upper house is made up of several former governors—who use the Senate as a stepping stone before running again for local office. If they change anything in the reform, then the House must redo its analysis of the bill.

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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