Labor expected to fold on budget
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
September 10, 2006 00:49
1 minute read.
The Labor Knesset faction decided on Friday to appoint a team of ministers to negotiate with the Finance Ministry and for party chairman Amir Peretz to handle contacts with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ahead of Tuesday's vote on the 2007 state budget.
The appointment of Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog and Minister-without-Portfolio Eitan Cabel to handle the negotiations instead of socioeconomic-minded Labor rebels was seen in the Finance Ministry as a signal that Labor does not intend to fight hard for the party's demands on the budget.
Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson will meet with the three ministers on Sunday after first getting together with Olmert to plan strategy ahead of the vote. Labor is demanding an expedited rise in the minimum wage and an allocation beyond the NIS 8 billion the Finance Ministry has budgeted to replace military supplies used in the war in Lebanon, but Hirchson has said the budget framework would not be violated.
Simhon said on his way out of Friday's meeting that his appointment laid the groundwork for reaching an understanding with the Finance Ministry. He expressed confidence that Labor could achieve some of its goals in talks with the Treasury, noting that Hirchson had already given in regarding the party's objections to raising university tuition.
"Labor is coming to these talks with clean hands," Simhon said. "I think the differences can be overcome, but we will not allow the Finance Ministry to take advantage of the Labor Party."
A protest by activists for the handicapped was held outside the Labor faction meeting at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters. The demonstrators accused Peretz of neglecting social issues.
"Ever since the establishment of the new government, the Labor Party has abandoned the social banner as a top priority," one demonstrator said.
Peretz said, "You have nothing to worry about. My being defense minister does not release me from my obligations to my socioeconomic agenda. On the contrary, I intend to ensure that [my socioeconomic agenda] will be implemented day by day, hour by hour."
Sheera Claire Frenkel and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.