Opposition Obstructs Brazil Congress as Political Crisis Worsens

  • Senate president canceled joint session scheduled for Tuesday
  • Rousseff critics want to block votes until impeachment resumes

Brazil’s opposition parties made good on promises to obstruct voting in Congress, as they step up pressure on lawmakers to resume impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff.

QuickTake Brazil’s Highs and Lows

Senate President Renan Calheiros canceled a joint session of Congress scheduled for Tuesday evening, when legislators were scheduled to vote on a series of presidential vetoes of bills that include an increase in welfare spending. His counterpart in the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, said members of the opposition declined to show up for the vote, meaning there wasn’t quorum to hold the session.

"Their efforts to obstruct voting are strong," said Cunha, who broke from the government last year even though his party forms part of the ruling coalition.

Without the joint session, the lower house decided to vote without the Senate on other matters, including a bill to authorize the use of a drug thought to fight cancer. In a show of support for the government, Rousseff’s allies blocked the house from voting on a bill that would undermine the administration’s austerity policies by increasing expenditures on health care.

Political Squabbling

The political squabbling underscores the challenges Rousseff faces in winning approval of a legislative agenda that is designed to narrow a record budget gap, slow inflation and revive investor confidence. Finance Minister Nelson Barbosa is increasingly concerned that the political turmoil is sidelining the administration’s efforts to revive growth, according to a government official, who asked not to be named because discussions were private.

Tuesday was the first day back at work for legislators since last week’s detention of former president and ruling party leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Television images of heavily armed police raiding his home during the operation, as well as Lula’s emotional recounting of the ordeal after his release hours later, emboldened both sides of Brazil’s political spectrum and sparked clashes between Lula’s supporters and detractors. Lula said his detention was unjustified and that he has nothing to hide.

Opposition lawmakers including congressman Antonio Imbassahy of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party responded to the events with a pledge to block voting in Congress until it advances with impeachment proceedings. Their request to remove the president from office has remained paralyzed for months, as Cunha says he won’t allow voting to continue until the Supreme Court settles legal questions about some technical procedures.

Opposition leaders on Tuesday asked Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski in a meeting to decide quickly on the procedures. The court hours later issued a statement, saying it would hold a hearing on the matter March 16. Cunha also said Tuesday he would restart impeachment proceedings the day after the judges issue a ruling.

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