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Brazil pension reform backed in first vote after tense debate

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s pension reform cleared its first legislative hurdle in a much-delayed congressional committee vote, renewing hopes that the former Army captain can put the economy back on track.

After a sometimes tense debate that lasted more than eight hours, the Lower House Constitution and Justice Committee voted 48 against 18 that the bill is constitutional and can proceed in Congress. The vote took place after the government bowed to centrist party demands and altered several points of the bill.

Mr. Bolsonaro still faces a long road to get final approval for the proposal that is to fix the country’s battered public accounts and help cut public debt. Months of debate and no fewer than six votes in both houses of Congress lie ahead before the bill can become law. There are signs the drawn-out process is already wearing on financial markets, as local assets have given up some gains recorded after the bill was introduced in February.

The president thanked lower house Speaker Rodrigo Maia and members of the committee for voting in favor of the bill. “The government continues to count on the patriotic spirit of lawmakers,” Bolsonaro said at a nationally televised speech Wednesday night. He added that, without the reform, the government will have no money to invest.

The pension reform will now move on to a special committee, which Mr. Maia would like to have set up Thursday, according to remarks he made on Twitter. “But, I will hear political party leaders first,” he said.

As a constitutional amendment, the pension bill will eventually need the support of 308 of the country’s 513 deputies in two separate floor votes and then 49 of its 81 Senators in two additional votes. Vice President Hamilton Mourao said in an interview this month he expects the proposal to be approved by August.