(Adds comments from house Speaker Rodrigo Maia)
By Maria Carolina Marcello and Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Brazilian officials promised on Thursday that a diluted proposal to overhaul pensions would achieve at least half the fiscal savings of the original bill, as the government ramped up negotiations in the hopes of getting to a vote in Congress by the end of the year.
President Michel Temer agreed with Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, lower house Speaker Rodrigo Maia and party leaders in Congress that the new pension bill should be voted on as soon as possible, Meirelles told reporters.
The pension overhaul, seen by investors as crucial to plugging Brazil’s budget deficit, came close to a lower house vote in late May, before stalling for months due to a corruption scandal involving Temer.
Talks resumed last month after the lower house voted to reject a criminal charge against the president.
The pension bill would force Brazilians to retire later in order to stave off a collapse of the social security system. But with elections approaching in 2018, many lawmakers are reluctant to vote for the changes, unpopular with many Brazilians.
Lawmaker Arthur Maia, in charge of studying the proposal in the lower house, said a new version should be ready later on Thursday for party leaders to discuss.
Lower house Speaker Rodrigo Maia, not related to Arthur Maia, defended the reforms but said that there were not enough votes currently to pass it.
“We feel that (party) leaders still are having a lot of difficulty convincing their congressmen,” Maia told reporters. “No party today has a majority of its congressmen ready to vote for pension reform, none.”
Proposed changes to the bill will facilitate its approval, which could have majority support later this year, he said.
The final text should keep a minimum retirement age, transition rules and the end of public sector privileges in order to maintain more than half the fiscal savings of the original proposal, Meirelles said.
The minister said that any changes reducing expected fiscal savings would have to be compensated for in the future by other measures.
The government originally expected the pension overhaul to help the Treasury save up to 800 billion reais ($245 billion) over the next 10 years.
The government’s economic team has resisted diluting the bill, warning that costly pensions are the major cause of a looming budget crisis.
$1 = 3.26 reais Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello and Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Silvio Cascione, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Dan Grebler