Brazil's Bolsonaro booed as he lays out priorities to Congress

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Opposition lawmakers booed Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday as he addressed a joint session of Congress to lay out his legislative priorities for the year.

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Bolsonaro, who is facing criticism for his handling of the world’s second-deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, said his government had earmarked enough funds to vaccinate Brazilians and the country would immediately acquire vaccines approved by its regulators.

Privatization of state companies, central bank independence, and administrative and tax reform were priorities of his government, he told Congress.

Bolsonaro also included in his priorities a planned “federative pact” reform bill that aims to revamp the financing ties between federal and local governments.

His agenda stands a good chance of passage after his allies took control of Congress on Monday in elections for the speakers of both chambers.

But as he began his address, opponents heckled the president. He replied: “See you in 2022,” in reference to next year’s presidential election when he plans to seek a second term.

Arthur Lira, newly elected speaker for the lower house and member of the right-wing Progressive Party, said the country needs emergency measures to assist Brazilians hit by the pandemic, while observing fiscal responsibility in government spending.

Stipends paid last year to Brazilians who lost their livelihoods in the pandemic boosted Bolsonaro’s popularity, but cost the Treasury more than 322 billion reais ($60 billion), a burden that has pushed government finances farther into the red.

The assistance program ended on Dec. 31 and lawmakers are looking for ways to extend it.

The newly-elected head of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, of the center-right Democrats party, said the two leaders would meet with Bolsonaro’s economic team to find a way to aid the needy without breaking a mandatory spending cap.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Lisandra Paraguassú, Ricardo Brito and Maria Carolina Marcello; Editing by Marguerita Choy