Knesset approves biennial budget for 2011-2012

Opponents decry "institutionalizing the dictatorship of Finance Ministry bureaucrats."

June 23, 2010 05:47
3 minute read.
PM Binyamin Netanyahu walks through the Knesset

Netanyahu, Knesset 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

After over 17 hours of continuous debate and voting, the Knesset on Tuesday okayed the government’s bid to continue the newly-initiated practice of the biennial budget.

Despite fierce opposition led by Kadima, even opposition MKs acknowledged that the filibuster was merely a delaying tactic to push off the inevitable, as throughout the entire process, there was little doubt regarding the government’s ability to pass the legislation.

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Because the vote was to extend a temporary order amending the Basic Law: The Budget, the government required a 61-vote majority, as is required of any amendment to a basic law. In the final vote, the coalition slipped through its required majority, with a vote of 63 to 32 finalizing the decision to draw up a biennial budget for 2011 and 2012.

In the hours of debate and voting on points of opposition to the initiative, both sides of the aisle slung accusations of inappropriate behavior.

Kadima complained that in advance of the tight vote, the coalition had told MKs that they could not engage in the practice of “trade-offs,” in which MKs on opposite sides of the aisle plan in advance to match up absences with absences so the balance of power is maintained.

Trade-offs are particularly popular during controversial votes in which coalition members do not want to go on record as having supported a specific bill.

“I ask to inform the members of the house that because the prime minister understands that he needs a 61-vote majority, he unilaterally decided to cancel out the trade-offs,” complained Kadima MK Yoel Hasson from the speaker’s podium. “This continues the culture of lying and is a violation of this Knesset’s practices – and I ask to delay the voting.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) was unrepentant in her opposition to the biennial budget, despite the calls to maintain coalition discipline.

“Setting an inflexible biennial budget in a changing economic environment is a serious economic and social error,” she explained. “Israel chose to become the world’s experiment through this forbidden adventure, and it is not for nothing that there is no other country in the world following in our footsteps. The biennial budget institutionalizes the dictatorship of Finance Ministry bureaucrats, and renders both the Knesset and the government irrelevant.”

The government included two clauses meant to placate opposition to the initiative. The first allowed for a “reinforcement” budget of NIS 1.2 billion to be delegated to exceptional expenses arising in the second year of the budget, and the second would allow the Finance Committee’s chairman to force the budget to be presented for debate earlier than previously allowed by law. The latter was considered to be a nod to critics who complained that the biennial budget weakened the Knesset’s role of providing oversight of the government.

The supporters of the initiative, led by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), emphasized that the biennial budget would help increase governmental stability, would maintain critical government-sponsored programs and, most importantly, had the support of the OECD, which recently accepted Israel into its ranks.

But Kadima saw the result of the vote in an entirely different light.

“The debate and its results proved that the Netanyahu coalition is a wide coalition only on paper, but that at the moment of truth, it must scrape together votes in order to ensure a majority, even at the expense of destroying all of the existing parliamentary protocols and agreements,” responded Kadima in an official statement.

“The disappearance of the Labor Party, the personal involvement of Netanyahu in canceling the ‘trade-offs’ and the panic that dominated the coalition throughout the voting proves that even Netanyahu’s coalition partners do not believe in the steps that he is trying to advance at the public’s expense,” it declared.

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