Knesset Finance Committee chairman Ya'acov Litzman is threatening not to pass the 2006 state budget if coalition talks between Kadima and United Torah Judaism aren't finalized to his party's satisfaction.
UTJ voted against approving Ehud Olmert's government last night despite the fact that the coalition voted to keep Litzman on as head of the powerful committee and that no minister was appointed to the Social Affairs Ministry that is being reserved for the party.
The 2006 budget, though long overdue, was never brought to the Knesset for approval because of the elections, and since the beginning of the year the country has had to get by with a temporary budget based on last year's numbers. Now the new government has, by law, 44 days to get the budget approved or elections will have to be called again.
The Knesset is supposed to have its first preliminary vote on the budget on Monday; it was supposed to move into the Finance Committee for the requisite debates and then back to the Knesset for final approval. But now Litzman is saying that, if the differences between Kadima and UTJ aren't resolved by Tuesday, "as a member of the opposition, I won't be able to pass the budget."
The main bones of contention remaining between the two parties are UTJ's demands to raise the child allowances so that large families get more and the clause in the coalition guidelines about legislation allowing couples unable to get married by religious law to obtain a civil marriage.
Litzman's act is mainly demonstrative because he will probably resign or else be removed from the committee and replaced by a loyal Kadima member, but his cooperation is needed to get the budget through as quickly as possible. He is an expert on budgets and how to guide them through the committee hurdles.
He also knows everything there is to know about the ways to block budgets, both as a chairman and as a regular member of the committee.
The coalition agreement that the two parties had almost reached included him staying on as chairman; the vote yesterday at the Knesset committee to allow him to remain was a sign of Olmert's confidence that a deal with UTJ would be reached sooner than later.
Coalition chairman MK Avigdor Yitzhaki seemed unfazed yesterday by Litzman's threats. "If he won't pass the budget," he said, "we'll automatically replace him with someone who will."