Both of the front-running candidates for the Kadima leadership, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, promised to make changes to the 2009 state budget if they won the September 17 Kadima primary.
The budget passed in the cabinet early Monday morning following 16 hours of debate, despite the opposition of Mofaz and every Labor and Shas minister. The turning point in passing the budget came after Treasury officials succeeded in obtaining the support of the two ministers who back Mofaz in the race, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim and Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham.
Boim and Avraham denied that Mofaz had pressured them to oppose the budget. But the fact that Mofaz did not succeed in blocking the budget's passage when it appeared that he had the power to veto it was seen in Kadima as a victory for Livni.
Mofaz said it was unfortunate that the budget had passed due to political reasons. He accused Livni of caving in to pressure to support it despite initial opposition.
"Tzipi said that it was not a good budget," Mofaz's campaign said. "Tzipi said that it required changes, but once again, she was not able to make the right decision. Once again she compromised, did not stand up to pressure and did not decide what she had to decide."
Aides to Livni responded that they would "not stoop to responding to such low mudslinging," adding that such statements only indicated that Mofaz's campaign was under stress. They said that the economy should not have to suffer due to the Kadima primaries.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who is also running for the Kadima leadership, criticized Mofaz and Labor ministers for voting against the budget.
"Most Labor ministers supported the budget with their souls but not their fingers, and they breathed a sigh of relief when it passed," Dichter said in a press conference at his Jerusalem office. "If the budget hadn't passed yesterday and the vote on it had been delayed until November, it would have harmed the economy unnecessarily."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed his satisfaction with the outcome of the cabinet vote. His associates boasted that he had succeeded in delivering a major political blow to his nemesis, Labor chairman Ehud Barak.
"We brought a severe defeat upon Barak, who tried every trick in the book to prevent the cabinet from supporting the budget proposal," they said. "He first tried to dissuade ministers from the Treasury's position, then he tried to get help from outside elements and was absent from the budget deliberations for long periods of time, and finally, he said that at 2 a.m. it was too late to vote on the budget because the ministers did not understand what they were voting on. Eventually, all his gambles and everything he was counting on failed."
Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) said that Labor and Shas's behavior had convinced him that the Knesset needed to be dispersed and that immediate elections were needed.
Barak said in a speech at the Negev Junction that Labor would continue to push for more funding for defense and welfare as the budget approval process continued. Sources close to Barak called it "a virtual budget," because whoever wins the Kadima race will change it.
In response to the criticism voiced in the run-up to the budget vote against the salaries IDF officers and non-commissioned servicemen receive, Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan said Monday that the public needed to show appreciation to those who serve in the military and not lambast them.
"I think it can be expected by the critics to be sensitive in the way they voice their criticism and how it can be harmful for IDF career servicemen by the way data is presented in the media," Nehushtan told reporters. "Career servicemen are a dedicated people and I don't think it is right to hurt them via the media. Instead they deserve the public's appreciation and gratitude."
Defense officials said that the NIS 1.3 billion cut to the defense budget would force the IDF to scale back on certain projects including the procurement of new armored personnel carriers, advanced weaponry and smart bombs as well as defense systems for tanks against anti-tank missiles.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.