(Recasts with minister's comment, adds analyst, Fitch view,
By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA May 9 Brazil's government has no clear
timeline for winning approval in Congress for pension reform,
the cornerstone of its plan to control a gaping budget deficit,
as it strives to secure the necessary votes, officials said on
The unpopular bill, which would force Brazilians to work
years longer before retirement, cleared a congressional
committee last week by 23 votes to 14.
It was meant to be put to the vote in the lower house this
week but that now is not expected to happen for two or three
Investors are worried the bill will undergo further dilution
with concessions by President Michel Temer's government to win
over unconvinced lawmakers who are worried angry voters will
punish them in the coming election year.
"We are working to widen the margin of votes for the pension
reform," Trade and Industry Minister Marcos Pereira told
reporters, declining to say when the bill would be voted.
The constitutional amendment, which could reduce Brazil's
current budget deficit by almost half, needs to be passed twice
by three-fifths of the members of both chambers.
In the lower house that requires 308 votes. According to
ARKO Advice, a political analysis firm in Brasilia, the
government has secured 313 votes, a margin too narrow to risk a
Temer's point man for relations with Congress, Antonio
Imbassahy, told reporters after a strategy meeting with the
president on Sunday that the government is sure the pension
reform will pass, but the date for putting the bill to the vote
will depend on mustering support from its coalition in Congress.
The head of the ruling PMDB party and government leader in
Congress, Senator Romero Jucá, said the pension reform bill will
sail through the Senate without interference.
The crucial battle will be in the lower chamber, where
lawmakers are playing for time to obtain more concessions from
the government. That could further water down the measure.
"Congressmen are seeking more concessions and the government
is negotiating, and it will get the votes it needs," said Lucas
de Aragão, a political scientist and partner at ARKO.
He said Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles would meet with
the farm lobby in Congress to secure their backing in return for
help with a debt of 10 billion reais ($3.1 billion) owed by the
agribusiness sector to a pension fund for rural workers.
Meirelles has said the bill as it stands has lost 25 percent
of planned savings - down to 600 billion reais over 10 years -
and more concessions are out of the question if the bill is to
be effective in reducing the deficit and helping to bring down
Brazil lost its investment grade credit rating two years ago
and needs to restore confidence in its government accounts to
stir investment and shake off a two-year recession.
Fitch Ratings, which rates Brazil BB or two notches below
investment grade, said on Tuesday it would await further clarity
over the approval of Temer's reform agenda before reviewing the
country's sovereign rating.
($1 = 3.1898 reais)
(Additional reporting by Marcela Ayres and Maria Carolina
Marcello; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Richard Chang)