Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Unboxing the Active Role of the Legislative Power in Brazil *

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Unboxing the Active Role of the Legislative Power in Brazil *

Article excerpt

Latin American political systems are recognized as having presidents with broad legislative powers (SANTOS, PÉREZ-LIÑÁN and GARCIA MONTEIRO, 2014). This feature has alerted political scientists to possible deficiencies regarding the legislators' ability to fully exercise their role. Legislatures in these countries are usually defined as weak, or as mere "rubber stamps" of the presidential agenda (COX and MORGENSTERN, 2001; O'DONNELL, 1994).

Brazil is a notable example of a presidency with strong legislative powers. The president approves most of the proposals sent to the legislature - with high success rates - and most of the laws come from bills initiated by the executive - with high rates of dominance (FIGUEIREDO and LIMONGI, 1999). The explanations for this success and dominance are based on presidential powers - powers over agenda and discretionary control of appointments and budget (AMORIM NETO, 2000; AMORIM NETO, COX, and MCCUBBINS, 2003; FIGUEIREDO and LIMONGI, 1999, 2008; MELO and PEREIRA, 2013; PEREIRA and MUELLER, 2002). In this context, in which the explanations for governability focus exclusively on the ability of the executive to promote it, doubts emerge as to the ability of the legislative branch to fully exercise its functions. This is particularly true when dealing with its main function, which is to assess, debate and produce laws.

However, what is the real ability of the legislature to affect the content of policies in an unbalanced context between the branches? Is the ability of the legislative branch to deliberate and modify executive proposals affected by the legislative powers of the president? These questions guide this article. It will be shown that the extensive executive authority is not an impediment to the legislature action, to the extent that none of the resources available to the executive are capable of inhibiting the active participation of the legislative branch in the process of making laws. To demonstrate this point, I will analyze amendments and substitute bills made by Congress to ordinary bills (projetos de lei ordinária - PL), provisional decrees (medidas provisórias - MPV) and complementary bills (projetos de lei complementar - PLP) sent by the executive during the governments of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, which were partially or totally vetoed1. Therefore, what is intended to show is that the high rates of success and executive predominance do not explain the high degree of participation of the legislative branch in the legal output of the country.

This article is divided into five parts. In the first part, brief considerations are made on the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches, attempting to show that a strong executive does not necessarily imply a weak legislature. The second part presents the methodology used to evaluate the modifications made by the legislature. The third part presents the impact of the modifications made by legislative amendments and substitute bills in the laws. The fourth part shows that the powers of agenda of the executive and party leaders do not affect legislature ability to change executive proposals. Lastly, final considerations are given.

Strong executive, weak legislature?

The presidency in Brazil has broad legislative powers, it is able to issue provisional decrees (medidas provisórias) which have the force of law from the moment of publication and can request urgency for the bills that it proposed, significantly limiting the time for evaluating its proposals by the legislature (45 days in each legislative house). The presidency also has exclusive initiative over budgetary and administrative matters, that is, it has agenda powers. The president also has negative powers and is able to partially or totally veto bills ratified by the legislative power. Furthermore, Brazilian presidents have a wide range of resources at their disposal, discretionary control over the budget2 and over appointments. …

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