(photo credit: Associated Press)
The coalition went into damage control mode on Tuesday after making sure it had a majority for the budget vote. The order of the day was cracking down on dissident Knesset members who have been threatening to vote against the government.
The latest rebel is Moshe Sharoni, head of the Gil Pensioners Party Knesset faction, who threatened that all seven Pensioners MKs would vote against, saying that not all the promises made to his party had been incorporated in the amended budget.
Other Gil MKs said, though, that they were unaware of such a threat. Kadima officials began briefing against Sharoni, saying he was "disgruntled" at not being appointed a minister and therefore was "making trouble."
Another legislator in hot water was Labor's Yoram Marciano, who abstained in the first reading on the budget and has been threatening ever since to do the same at the second and third readings. On Monday, Marciano was openly telling reporters, "Everything I have been doing is arranged with Amir Peretz."
However following Monday night's meeting between Labor chairman Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when Peretz promised to rein in his party's rebels, Marciano was forced to change his tune. When his remarks to the media were reported on Army Radio Tuesday morning, he went on the air to deny ever having made them.
Despite suspicions that Peretz really had been behind the actions of his MKs, Kadima was anxious to avoid another rift between the two parties. Coalition chairman MK Avigdor Yitzhaki said, "We trust Peretz, I worked with him for three years when I was director-general of the Prime Minister's Office and he is a man of his word."
One Kadima MK voiced understanding for Peretz's problems within Labor: "Those making the most noise about the budget are also his main supporters within the party, so naturally he can't afford to alienate them."
At the same time they were trying to smooth things over with Labor, Kadima representatives were busy proving that, if need be, they could do without their unreliable coalition partner. After securing a commitment from opposition parties Israel Beiteinu and NRP-National Union to abstain instead of voting against the budget in return for NIS 300 million in allocations for National Religious educational institutions and for immigrants, Kadima was about to strike a deal with United Torah Judaism that they would support, or at least not oppose the budget bill in return for NIS 290m. for Yeshivot.
Kadima officials said that they were interested in showing that "the budget has the support of wide sectors of the public" but didn't deny that there was also a message here for Labor.
Meanwhile, Kadima MK Marina Solodkin continued to declare that she wouldn't be supporting the budget, and might even vote against it, as part of her ongoing protest of the absence of immigrants in the cabinet. Kadima members didn't seem worried about her prolonged protest and promised that an opportunity would be found to appoint her as a deputy minister and that the 2007 state budget would include funding for her pet projects relating to Russian immigrants.
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