Italy's Populists Win Key Vote on 2019 Budget in Parliament

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s populist government won a key vote in the lower house of parliament as it strives to meet a year-end deadline for approval of the 2019 budget.

Lawmakers voted 327-228 on a motion of confidence in the administration on Saturday evening, a tactic often used in Italy to push legislation through parliament. A final vote on the budget by the lower house is expected Sunday morning.

Italy's Populists Win Key Vote on 2019 Budget in Parliament

The Rome administration has been ramming the budget through the Senate and the lower house after a weeks-long standoff with the European Commission. Deputy Premiers Matteo Salvini of the anti-migrant League and Luigi Di Maio of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement agreed to lower a 2019 deficit target to 2.04 percent from the initial 2.4 percent that was rejected by the commission in Brussels as breaching European Union rules.

Before the confidence vote, opposition lawmakers denounced the government for allegedly humiliating parliament by curtailing discussion in its rush to get the budget through. “You are asking for a motion of confidence on a measure which parliament has not had time to discuss,” said Graziano Delrio, a former minister with the center-left Democratic Party. “You have prevented a sacrosanct procedure guaranteed by the constitution.”

The populist leaders delayed and diluted landmark election promises -- a lower retirement age for the League, and welfare benefits for Five Star -- under pressure from Premier Giuseppe Conte and Finance Minister Giovanni Tria.

Italy's Populists Win Key Vote on 2019 Budget in Parliament

Salvini dismissed media reports earlier Saturday of a possible government reshuffle in which Tria would resign early next month. The idea of a cabinet revamp is “surreal and totally false,” Salvini said in a statement sent by his office. “You don’t change a winning team, we’re the government with the highest voter confidence in Europe.”

Newspapers including La Stampa, which cited unnamed officials in Conte’s office, reported that Tria might step down after parliament approved the spending plans, the latest media reports about Tria’s possible departure.

Tria has confided to lawmaker friends that he couldn’t bear another budget fight, La Stampa said. Tria has repeatedly denied he has considered resigning.

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