The Senate passed the law with 53 votes in favor, just four votes more than required to amend the Constitution, while 16 senators voted against it after more than a month and a half of missteps and controversy.
Starting next year, the amendment will limit the federal budget of the next five legislatures. The government will only be allowed to increase spending based on inflation. The mammoth Brazilian bureaucracy will not be able to raise salaries for public servants, hire new employees or provide fiscal incentives if it does not meet its goals.
Though the law will not affect the most sensitive areas – education and healthcare – until 2018, it remains a sort of existential dilemma for the Brazilian government. Until now, the Brazilian Constitution only provided a minimum threshold for public expenditures, not a cap.
The close vote on the bill reflects an undeniable fact: the Michel Temer administration, which took office in August after the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff, lacks the authority it expected to have. The executive tried to present himself as a fiscally reasonable and responsible leader, a sort of bitter but necessary medicine to rouse the country out of the economic crisis.
Yet, his administration faces constant corruption allegations that involve more and more of its Cabinet members. And by the time lawmakers voted on the bill, his popularity had dwindled to 10%, according to the last poll by Datafolha, from an admittedly low record, a mere 14%, when Temer took office in late August.
Several senators who had already thrown their support behind the bill have distanced themselves from the president. “We didn’t have to win in the penalty shoot-out,” said Romero Jucá, the leader of Temer’s coalition in Congress. “We didn’t win 5-0 but we won 5-3. The most important thing is that we won,” he added in consolation.
Before the vote, the small minority in parliament warned that it would bring an appeal before the Supreme Court but all of its efforts to do so have failed. Still, the left insists that the new law is unconstitutional. “It is unreasonable: the people’s Constitution has stopped protecting the people,” said Jorge Viana, a member of the Workers Party (PT).
English version by Dyane Jean François.