The Knesset House Committee suspended hearings suddenly on a key coalition bill Wednesday after Committee Chairman Yariv Levine (Likud) suspected that fellow party member Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz had backtracked on an agreement allegedly made between the two.
The House Committee held a regularly-scheduled discussion Wednesday preparing coalition legislation that would raise the number of votes required - from 50 to 55 - in order to pass a budgetary bill against the will of the government. Since taking the reins of the coalition this spring, the government has pushed for a special majority of 55 votes to approve any legislation that would cost the government more than NIS 5 million as one of five so-called "Governance Laws" meant to bolster the coalition and increase stability.
The delay Wednesday constituted yet another stumbling block for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's five laws, which have had a hard time passing the Knesset. Thus far, only the "Mofaz Law" has passed all three Knesset readings.
In the course of the hearing Wednesday, the issue arose of bills that have already passed their first reading by the time that the new law could go into effect. Levine said that he and Steinitz had come to an agreement to exclude those bills from the law, which would only apply to legislation that had not yet been raised in committees.
But to Levine's surprise, the freshman Likud MK discovered that Steinitz's representatives in the committee opposed the grandfathering clause. When Levine said that there was an agreement in place with the Finance Minister, the ministry representatives requested a brief recess. But when they came back, their answer remained the same: the Finance Ministry opposed any grandfathering clause.
In response, Levine announced that he was closing proceedings on the bill for the day - a move seen as highly exceptional in committee protocol. Levine emphasized that the compromise was necessary in order to avoid "changing the rules in the middle of the game," and expressed his concern that the compromise could harm coalition-supported bills, such as the Golan Heights National Referendum Bill, which he is responsible for preparing.
Kadima officials, who were content to see the ruling party embroiled in policy struggles with itself, reported following the hearing that coalition members attacked Steinitz for allegedly breaking his understanding with Levine.
The coalition party traditionally controls the powerful committee, which is responsible for ruling, among other things, on Knesset procedures in order to limit incidents similar to Wednesday's.
The bill on budgetary legislation has been hotly contested since its proposal. In the second week of the Winter session, the opposition boycotted the bill's first reading. Although the bill won a majority of votes during the afternoon plenum session, the opposition claimed victory after Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was forced to approve the bill only conditionally pending further examination of the question regarding whether or not it constituted a vote on a Basic Law.
The committee hearing on the bill was delayed while legal experts determined whether the vote was permissible without the supermajority of 61 required to pass a Basic Law.