(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Knesset leaders met Thursday to form a united front against the legislation known as the Economic Arrangements Bill, a key piece of legislation for the coalition that has managed to irk even senior coalition members within the Knesset, who termed it a “Knesset bypass bill.”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin met Thursday with the heads of key Knesset committees as part of his drive to stop the Economic Arrangements Bill in its current form. House Committee Chairman Yariv Levin (Likud), Welfare Committee Chairman Haim Katz (Likud), Law Committee Chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ), Economic Affairs Committee Chairman Ophir Akunis (Likud) and Education Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) all participated in the meeting.
In the course of the meeting, Rivlin and the committee chairs agreed that any contacts with the Treasury regarding the bill would be made as part of a unified joint front including all of the committee chairs, or with the agreement of the chairperson relevant to the specific clause being discussed.
Rivlin has held meetings in recent weeks with very senior government officials and ministers in an effort to reach an understanding regarding the bill, which is expected to be presented before the Knesset in the early days of the winter session. The meeting with the Knesset chairs came after Rivlin and the government failed to come to any understanding on the law.
Rivlin told the committee chairmen that he will not allow the controversial bill to be brought for vote in the Knesset if it retains its current format.
“There are, within the bill, significant reforms that demand exhaustive public debate, alongside clauses that bypass committees, and that cancel out and delay the enactment of legislation,” complained Rivlin, who for years served on the Finance Committee before becoming the Knesset speaker.
“It is unacceptable for the Economic Arrangements Law to turn into a central policy tool, and instead of supporting the budget it becomes the main legislation,” he said.
The Economic Arrangements Law first entered the Knesset lexicon in 1985, when it was first introduced alongside the budget to help further the economic policies and balance the budget presented by the government.
The budget and the Economic Arrangements Bill are usually voted on back-to-back, in order to maintain coalition discipline throughout the legislative process. If the coalition fails to pass the budget, the law demands that the Knesset dissolve and elections be held.
In the over two decades in which it has become a frequent bone of contention, the annual, and now biannual Economic Arrangement Bills have gained a reputation as a hiding place for pork-barrel politics and the rewards for back-room deals.
“The bill is a law designed to bypass the Knesset, and is invalid at its base. We cannot facilitate such an anti-democratic tool; everything that does not serve the budget itself cannot be lumped all together in the bill,” Rivlin added.
“To my regret, the government takes advantage of the Economic Arrangements Bill to pass almost any legislative initiative, including those that could be passed through regular Knesset processes, those that are currently being discussed in committee, and even those that the Knesset – with the coalition’s support – decided to table.”
The speaker complained that last year he had repeatedly requested that the government pass its reform plans through the regular legislative process, but that the government “refused because they felt that they could pass them more easily through the Economic Arrangements Bill, and so it grew and swelled. I will not enable that to happen,” Rivlin promised.
Sources present at the meeting said that a number of the committee
chairmen expressed their anger that the Finance Minister had “pulled”
legislation that was underway in their committees, only for the
legislation to re-surface as clauses in the Economic Arrangements Bill.
In one case, a clause that was pulled out of last year’s Economic
Arrangements Bill to reform business registration, including a “green
line” for low-risk businesses, reappeared in this year’s bill after
passing a first Knesset reading and while in the process of Finance
Committee hearings before its final votes.
In a second instance, the bill contains a plan to add an express lane in
Tel Aviv – a plan that has advanced heretofore through five hearings of
the Economic Affairs Committee.