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February vote on Brazil pension reform is last chance, house speaker says

SAO PAULO, Dec 17 (Reuters) - If the lower house of Brazil's Congress fails to pass a pension reform seen as key to shoring up the nation's fiscal health in February as scheduled, legislators should move on to other topics, a top lawmaker told a national newspaper.

In an interview published on Sunday in Folha de S. Paulo, House Speaker Rodrigo Maia said if Congress fails to vote on the unpopular measure, legislators would be better off focusing on improving the political landscape for the next president ahead of the October 2018 elections.

"If we don't get the conditions to vote at that point - on February 19 or 20 - it's impossible. It's better to move on to another topic," Maia said. "There is no plan B."

Reforming Brazil's generous public pension system by cutting benefits and raising retirement ages, among other modifications, is the centerpiece of President Michel Temer's efforts to bring the bloated deficit under control. Allies had hoped to pass a measure as early as April 2017, but a string of graft scandals involving Temer and allies has distracted Congress and led to several delays.

Legislators are also reluctant to vote for the measure as October presidential and congressional elections approach, and Temer has so far failed to build the coalition needed to pass the bill.

"If (the February vote) doesn't work, we're going to think about others things so that we can reorganize Brazil to create a better situation for the next president," Maia said.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Mary Milliken)