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Brazil pension vote tally barely budges despite Temer’s efforts

Brazil President Michel Temer

As Brazil's legislative recess enters its final days, President Michel Temer still faces an uphill battle to secure the votes for his government's flagship pension reform bill, according to five senior government allies.

Two of Mr. Temer's closest advisers, Government Affairs Secretary Carlos Marun and lower house government deputy-leader Beto Mansur, said on Tuesday that around 270 deputies back the constitutional amendment to curb pension outlays. That's roughly the same level of support registered last month and far from the 308 needed to approve the bill.

The mood contrasts with Mr. Temer's optimistic view in December that lawmakers would return from their holidays, due to end next week, "much more excited to vote on the reform." It also suggests that his government may fail to pass the closely watched measure that both policymakers and economists say is crucial to reining in Brazil's rising debt levels and winning back investor confidence.

"You've got problems in all parties in parliament, from the president's party to the smaller caucuses," Mr. Mansur said on Tuesday after meeting with lower house Speaker Rodrigo Maia. "Everywhere you look, you have issues here and there, undecided lawmakers here and there or someone who's genuinely against it."

In recent weeks, Mr. Temer's government has launched an aggressive marketing campaign on radio and television in an attempt to relieve pressure on lawmakers by convincing the public of the necessity of reform. The president himself appeared on several TV variety shows, between comedy sketches and dance routines, in an effort to bring that message home. In interviews with several party leaders this week, the sense is that those efforts fell flat.

"The congressional recess only served to help time pass and move closer to elections," PSD party's lower house leader Marcos Montes said in an interview, referring to the general elections in October. "Difficulties are increasing at every turn."

Despite the challenges, government allies insist the vote will happen as scheduled on Feb. 19, and are confident that small tweaks to the text will help secure necessary backing. "The government only has one plan, and that's for approval now," Mr. Marun said.

This contrasts with a comment earlier this month by a senior presidential aide, who told Bloomberg the government is considering suspending the vote on pension reform until after the October elections.