By Lisandra Paraguassu and Eduardo Simões
BRASILIA -Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday said a vote against expanded government spending next year was a vote against the country, adding pressure on lower house lawmakers ahead of a crucial second-round vote on new fiscal rules.
Bolsonaro is pushing for a change to the constitution that would let the government spend an additional 92 billion reais ($16.5 billion) next year, staggering court-ordered payments so he can ramp up welfare programs ahead of next year’s election.
A second-round vote is expected in the lower house of Congress on Tuesday after an initial vote passed by just four votes last week. A constitutional amendment must pass twice with at least three-fifths of the votes in each chamber.
If the government is forced to pay all the court-ordered obligations coming due next year, it “would bankrupt Brazil,” Bolsonaro said in a local media interview.
“Whoever voted against the parceling out of the court-ordered payments voted against Brazil’s poorest,” he said.
The legislation’s tough path through the lower house adds to doubts about its chances in the Senate. On Monday, Bolsonaro said he expected it to face an uphill battle there. If it fails, the government may have to seek a deal with the Supreme Court over how to pay for billions of reais in court-ordered payments.
A majority of justices on the Supreme court on Tuesday upheld an injunction suspending the “secret” earmarking of pork barrel funds included to win lawmakers’ support for the bill, which could derail final passage of the measure.
The constitutional amendment, which is key to letting Bolsonaro more than double welfare spending temporarily next year, rattled financial markets and led several senior Treasury officials to quit when it was floated last month.
It has also set off intraparty debates in Congress, as politicians weigh a desire for more generous welfare programs against a loss of fiscal credibility and the likely electoral boost for Bolsonaro.
Presidential hopeful Ciro Gomes, whose left-wing candidacy is polling third in the 2022 race behind Bolsonaro and former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said he was stunned that most lawmakers in his party had supported the legislation.
Gomes said last week he was suspending his presidential run in order to pressure members of his Democratic Labor Party (PDT).
On Tuesday, PDT leadership said it was changing course and pressing lower house lawmakers to vote against the amendment in the second round after 15 of 24 initially gave their support.
“We decided to change position … in the name of preserving our party unity,” Wolney Queiroz, the PDT‘s leader in the lower house, wrote on social media.