Nothing bad happens to the government in Congress that is not splendid in the face of what is yet to happen. At the moment, the president of the Chamber Arthur Lira articulates Lula’s first major legislative defeat. He triggered the overthrow of a pair of decrees edited by the president to modify the Basic Sanitation Framework approved by Congress and sanctioned by Bolsonaro in 2020. The shot would be fired last Wednesday. Lira opted to give Lula a week to back off. Planalto rediscusses the theme. But he still hasn’t hinted at an intention to turn around.
The clash over sanitation takes place against a background stained by an old waste: the construction of governability based on the promiscuous financial relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches. Under Lula, the Planalto operates to transfer from Lira’s office to the ministries the management of the distribution of budget amendments that buy the support of parliamentarians for government initiatives. Lira reacts by setting congressional traps for Lula. She mimics the style of mentor Eduardo Cunha, the deputy who made Dilma Rousseff’s administration hell.
Lula’s decrees presented Lira with the opportunity to exercise physiology by handling a noble cause. The Basic Sanitation Framework was received as a beneficial novelty. It placed private initiative in a sector where the State has historically proved to be ineffective. There are around 100 million people in Brazil without access to the sewage system. Something like 35 million Brazilians do not have a tap with drinking water at home. The ambitious goal of universalizing the provision of water and sewage in ten years was set.
The new sanitation legislation did not extinguish the state companies. It just established rules that force states to structure themselves if they want to compete with private groups. Lula’s decrees produced subterfuges that allowed state companies to assume the provision of services, without bidding, to groupings of municipalities. Lira called the arrangement an “absurd throwback”. He reiterated his annoyance in an interview published this Sunday by the newspaper O Globo.
“On certain topics, you can’t go back,” said Lira. For him, Lula and PT can no longer exercise their statist tendencies freely. “Congress was elected with a completely different bias than the Executive. There are government issues such as, for example, changes to the Basic Sanitation Framework through decrees. Congress does not accept that a law is changed like that.” It was understood that, if he wants to change legislation voted by congressmen, Lula needs to send a new bill to Congress, triggering its majority.
In the same interview, Lira made a point of stressing that Lula still does not have a solid congressional base. In early March, before the government’s 100th anniversary, the president of the Chamber had already armed his boats with the following statement: “We will have time for the government to stabilize internally, because today the government still does not have a consistent base neither in the Chamber nor in the Senate to face simple majority matters, let alone constitutional quorum matters”.
Almost two months later, Lira now says things like this: “What is the reality of this legislature? We approved the Transition PEC, which was voted on in the previous government, but with complete management by Lula’s team. Afterwards, there was an accommodation and the formation of a coalition government, with the exchange of ministries for support, which has been proven not to work. [orçamentárias] solve this without the need for a ministry. The way it is, the parliamentarian has the saucer in his hand and a minister, who does not receive votes and does not run a contest, is the one who defines the allocation of R$ 200 billion to municipalities in Brazil.”
The way she expresses herself, Lira seems to suffer from the abstinence of the secret budget, the mechanism adopted under Bolsonaro to outsource, without transparency, the execution of almost BRL 20 billion from the National Treasury’s cash register. Condemned as unconstitutional by the Federal Supreme Court, the confidential amendments were redistributed. A piece was destined to the cake of individual and countertop amendments. Another chunk, worth around BRL 9 billion, changed headings —RP9 became RP2— and was returned to the ministries. Parliamentarians continue to define where the funds should be sent. But the queue now does not form in front of Lira’s office, but at the Esplanada’s counters.
“I’ve always said that the budget is much more democratic if decided by 600 parliamentarians than by ten ministers,” Lira told Globo. “I was elected without RP-9 and I have had a good relationship without it. It doesn’t interfere with anything in my life. But in governance, yes. We know what the parties want: favoring public works and services to increase their political scope and serve its bases. The government needs to organize itself, more specifically the Institutional Relations Secretariat.”
Alexandre Padilha is the minister who heads the Institutional Relations Secretariat. Responsible for the political articulation of the government, it is he who manages, as Lula’s representative, the positions and amendments desk. “A fine and polite fellow,” breathed Lira, before biting: “But he’s had difficulties. It hasn’t been reflected in a good satisfaction relationship. Maybe the group needs to decentralize more, trust more. If you centralize, you lock in a lot. There’s difficulty, perhaps because of the time the PT was out of power.”
Putting all of Lira’s sentences together, what he said, in other words, was more or less the following:
1) The approval of the Transition PEC, before taking office, does not endorse the thesis according to which governability is a matter of course.
two) The government still does not have the votes to prevail in Congress.
3) The old man takes over ministries no longer ensures the one from here in the plenary of the Chamber.
4) The conservative bias of Congress annulled Lula’s intention to do whatever he wanted, as in previous terms.
5) Without their intermediation, the distribution of amendments via ministries will not eliminate the gelatinous appearance of the Planalto’s hypothetical support base in Congress.
Lula and the PT supported Lira’s reappointment as head of the Chamber on the assumption that they would receive recognition and gratitude. Something different happens. Lira poses as a general benefactor of the Republic, not of the government: “I work to give peace to Brazil. I could have been elected president of the Chamber without the PT, but I accepted the support and I will not mock the government. I will not work against nor act deliberately to harm. But the mayor is not an associate, he is a partner.”
Lira’s inhospitable partnership is not limited to the Basic Sanitation Framework. There is a project in the Chamber to overturn Lula’s anti-armament decrees. At a time when the president intensifies the demarcation of indigenous lands, Lira brought to the plenary agenda a project on the time frame that inhibits the recognition of the right of indigenous peoples to possess their territories. Lira runs to anticipate the Federal Supreme Court, which scheduled the judgment on the time frame for June.
The atmosphere of blackmail is heightened by the CPI factory. While Lula and his operators wet their coats to guarantee a majority in the mixed CPI of the Golpe, Lira put a CPI of the MST to work. “There have been more invasions of Embrapa and cellulose productive lands, mainly in states where the state government is allied with the federal government”, declared Lira. “What is the risk of not putting a brake on this soon? It’s just that the people in the countryside are scared and armed. It’s not long before a problem happens. Members of the government have already rejected the invasions, but there have been no firm measures to stop them. So, , will have CPI.”
Lira is equipped to accommodate the namesake and ally Arthur Maia in charge of the Golpe CPI. Disdains the hypothesis that the Alagoan disaffected Renan Calheiros assumes the presidency or rapporteurship of the CPI with the support of the government. “I have no information about him wanting to, nor do I know about the government’s will. But Senator Renan, if he wants to be president of the CPMI, will need votes. To be rapporteur, he will need to build an agreement. It does not depend on the government.”
Lira sees the CPI of the coup as the stage for a “war of narratives”. She presents herself as a true scale. She attributed the adversity to Planalto mistakes. It does not seem to exempt Lula from responsibility. “The government tried to overthrow it, but it became inevitable after the Gonçalves Dias video,” he told Globo. “My question is why this video has not appeared before. Who held the images and declared secrecy? How did it end up in the media? Who had access? If it was Gonçalves Dias, he is Lula’s trusted man. If it was GSI, this will also need to be explained.”
Repeating the resistance hero pose, Lira offers himself as a stabilizing factor. “I guarantee one thing: the plenary agenda will continue to be played normally.” For now, submitting the agenda to Lira’s convenience resulted in legislative paralysis. But the benefactor-general nods to the market. “We are going to help with the guidelines, such as the fiscal framework project. Everything we can do to make the business environment better, with less interest rates and inflation, we will do. Then we will have the tax reform. These are the goals until July.”
Upon entering its fifth month of existence, Lula’s third government consolidated a hallmark in the Legislature: inefficiency. The refinement, the care, the extreme finish and, above all, the cost at which the government achieves this inefficiency is noticeable. The appearance is of a screw turning at random, with the thread stripped.
To work, the government needs to pass the reforms it has promised. It was expected to be agile, to take advantage of the post-election vigor. But Lula delayed the plans of his finance minister, Fernando Haddad. Assuming Lira’s calendar can be taken seriously, economic reforms will be voted on in the Senate in the second half.
This week, the board of the Central Bank should keep the interest rate running at around 13.75% per annum. In public, Lula will strike new knees at Roberto Campos Neto, the head of BC. In private, she will continue to complain that Lira and the forces of backwardness undermine the government in Congress. Locks and complaints serve as an excuse. But they don’t solve the problems.
If the signs of prosperity are not issued by Christmas, Brazilians will complain about Lula and the government, not the presidents of the Chamber and the Central Bank. At this point, Lula may realize that lack of prosperity is the Siamese twin of unpopularity.
Lira no longer has the support of the 464 deputies who brought him back to the command of the Chamber. Some prefer to deal directly with the government. But the Emperor of the House structured a party block that adds up to 173 votes. At the end of the year, the members of this bloc and the like will continue to be a problem for the government, only much more expensive.
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