(photo credit: Knesset Website)
After a long night of debate on the 2007 Economic Arrangements Bill, the Knesset House Committee approved most of the amendments for vote in the Knesset Finance Committee, including an increase to the national minimum wage and a cut of four percent to social security payments.
A voting fluke at Wednesday morning's meeting of the House Committee allowed MKs to force the committee to vote on each amendment of the bill separately.
The Economics Arrangements Bill, which is actually a collection of dozens of bills, is bundled into one package and passed as a whole. MKs have long protested the practice, calling it a ploy by the Finance Ministry to force the Knesset to pass laws that they otherwise would not.
On Wednesday, the House Committee was set to vote on the bill, moving it to the plenum where it would be passed with the 2007 budget. When the vote was tallied, however, the total came to a tie - 13 to 13. But there are only 25 members in the committee.
It soon emerged that MK David Azoulay (Shas) had been counted twice - once in favor and once against - because he had been in the midst of a phone call and had left his hand in the air too long.
Normally, Azoulay's vote would not have mattered, since coalition MKs have a majority in the committee and should have easily voted in favor of the bill. However, Labor MKs Nadia Hilu and Shelly Yacimovich, who have rebelled against the party line before, voted against the bill, as did Committee Chairwoman MK Ruhama Avraham (Kadima). The three said that they decided to break with the coalition because they felt the Economics Arrangements Bill hurt the socioeconomic interests of Israel.
"This bill represents a serious injury to society," said Yacimovich.
Due to the tie, Avraham announced that the committee would reconvene in the afternoon and vote again. Opposition MKs used the opportunity to issue a complaint and demand that each amendment of the bill, more than 80 in all, be voted on separately.
Coalition Chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki (Kadima) expressed outrage over the delay in the vote.
"If party leaders did a better job of keeping their members in line we would not be in this situation, wasting hours of our lawmakers' time," said Yitzhaki.
Labor faction leader Yoram Marciano called an emergency meeting of the faction after the morning's vote, bashing MKs Yacimovich and Hilu for their rebellion.
"We have to stand by our agreements with Kadima and not insist on our own flights of fancy," Marciano told the MKs. "These types of rebellions take away from the respect of our party."
Marciano later arranged for Finance Minister Avraham Hirschon to meet with the Labor faction and assuage the fears of the MKs. Ultimately, Hilu decided to change her vote while Yacimovich said that until Hirschon had promised her, in writing, that certain amendments would be removed from the Economics Arrangement Bill, she would vote against it.
"What these Knesset members are doing is the worst type of political demagoguery," said MK Estherina Tartman (Israel Beiteinu.)
She added that a number of the amendments that Yacimovich was fighting against were already null and void due to a coalition agreement reached between Israel Beiteinu and Kadima.