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What’s in store for the 2021 policy agenda in Congress?

. Feb 01, 2021
congress leadership election Senator Rodrigo Pacheco, the favorite to lead the Senate President for the next two years. Photo: Roque de Sá/AS/CN

Following today’s congressional leadership election, lawmakers will begin the 2021 legislative year on February 3 with several pressing issues on the agenda. The absolute first priority is to approve this year’s federal budget, delayed at the end of 2020 due to an impasse in the lower house. Once that is cleared up, Congress is set to analyze 30 provisional decrees issued by the Executive branch, including one which would extend the coronavirus emergency aid program. 

Elsewhere, lawmakers will continue debates initiated last year, such as those focusing on anti-racism legislation. And the result of today’s leadership election will play a significant part, as the incoming House Speaker and Senate President will be able to propose policy items of their choosing.

The Brazilian Report has prepared a list of compulsory and discretionary topics set to be on this year’s legislative agenda.

</p> <h2>What&#8217;s at stake for 2021</h2> <ul><li><strong>2021 Annual Budget Law</strong>: As discussed by <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/12/17/budget-woes-leave-brazil-unable-to-make-investments-entering-2021/"><strong>The Brazilian Report</strong></a>, Congress passed the Budget Directives Law (LDO) last year but was unable to approve the <a href="https://www.camara.leg.br/noticias/688688-PROPOSTA-DE-ORCAMENTO-REFORCA-TETO-DOS-GASTOS-E-PREVE-SALARIO-MINIMO-DE-R$-1.067">federal budget</a> itself. While the LDO merely lists the policies that will be prioritized each year, the budget law stipulates the precise revenues and expenses for each policy area. Squabbles in the House prevented leaders from appointing a committee chair to the Joint Budget Committee, but this is now expected to go ahead after today&#8217;s leadership election. Lawmakers also need to assess <a href="https://www.camara.leg.br/noticias/723242-proposta-orcamentaria-e-24-vetos-aguardam-analise-do-congresso-apos-retorno-aos-trabalhos/">24 presidential vetoes</a> related to the budget.&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Coronavirus emergency aid</strong>: The wealth transfer policy expired in December 2020, but several lawmakers have advocated for an extension of the program to reinstate monthly BRL 300 (USD 55) payments to Brazil&#8217;s unemployed and informal workers. Senator Randolfe Rodrigues has argued that the benefits should not expire for another three or six months. With the end of the benefit, <a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2021/01/brasil-comeca-2021-com-mais-miseraveis-que-ha-uma-decada.shtml">27 million Brazilians started the year poorer</a> and extreme poverty rates reached their highest levels since 2011, making this a particularly pressing issue.</li><li><strong>Other pandemic-related policies</strong>: Congress is set to vote on a series of coronavirus-related provisional decrees issued by the federal Executive branch. These include efforts to open additional lines of credit to combat the pandemic; authorize the country to join the international Covax Facility consortium; create more flexible rules for the acquisition of vaccines and vaccine-related products, and establish Covid-19 sanitation rules for indigenous lands.&nbsp;</li></ul> <ul><li><strong>Electricity</strong>: Considerable attention is set to be paid to MP 998/2020, which intends to reallocate funds in the electricity sector to reduce energy tariffs. Set to expire, the bill must be analyzed by the Senate before February 9.</li><li><strong>Structural Reforms</strong>: The approval of structural reforms — such as the overhaul of the tax and public service systems — is contingent on today&#8217;s congressional leadership election and its subsequent impact on Executive-Legislative relations. Last year, the Jair Bolsonaro administration was unable to coordinate the approval of these reforms with Congress. Incumbent House Speaker Rodrigo Maia took it upon himself to spearhead the approval of the pension reform, complaining of a lack of cooperation from the Executive. As such, while tax and administrative reforms will be on the legislative agenda, it is unclear whether Congress will be able to approve both. </li><li><strong>Racism</strong>: Both the House and the Senate have made efforts to improve legislation addressing racism. Last month, the House created a special committee made up of 20 black lawyers who will revise existing anti-racism policies. Issues on the committee’s agenda include mass incarceration, police violence, and the relationship between racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination. The Senate now has a section of its webpage to track racism-related bills and news. With these institutional developments, racism is likely to be a key issue on this year’s legislative agenda, regardless of who wins today&#8217;s leadership votes.

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Beatriz Rey

Beatriz Rey is a research fellow at the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University and a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

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