2008 budget meets last-minute opposition ahead of plenum vote

Shas and Labor among parties opposing both the budget and sections of the Economic Arrangements Bill.

knesset 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
knesset 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Predictions that the 2008 budget would pass quietly for the first time in recent memory were shattered Sunday as coalition parties demanded a series of last-minute negotiations with the Finance Ministry. The Shas, Israel Beiteinu, Labor and Gil Pensioners parties all threatened to withdraw their support of the budget and the Economic Arrangements Bill unless several amendments that they deemed harmful to the weaker sectors of society were removed. Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel convinced all the parties to form a united front against the Finance Ministry to ensure the amendments' removal. The Knesset's Finance Committee was scheduled to vote Sunday on a finalized version of the Economic Arrangements Bill ahead of Monday's plenum vote. By press time, the committee had not yet conducted its vote, and deliberations between the Finance Ministry and party officials were ongoing. The passing of the controversial Economic Arrangements Bill, actually a number of bills bundled together and passed as a whole, has long been a point of contention in the Knesset. Though Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik worked with Kadima MKs to remove the majority of the Finance Ministry's amendments to the bill, coalition MKs took issue with three central amendments that remained. Shas, Israel Beiteinu, Labor and the Pensioners Party all want credit for removing amendments, which largely have to do with government subsidies to working sectors of society and a new National Insurance Institute tax for health insurance for housewives. "Ultimately it comes down to an issue of how much money the Finance Ministry is willing to hand out to these parties for their votes on the budget," said MK Ya'acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), former head of the Finance Committee. With time running short for the government to reach its goal for a budget by January 1, many MKs questioned whether the Finance Ministry would be willing to make the necessary compromises to secure a plenum majority. Each of the parties wants the government's support for individual platforms that they are attempting to advance for their own constituencies. While Shas wants more money budgeted for religious education and the haredi community at large, the Pensioners Party is demanding more funding for programs to support the elderly. Israel Beiteinu has advanced their new projects for new immigrants, which they believe are sorely underfunded in the current budget. The Knesset budget currently stands at NIS 494 million for 2008, an increase of NIS 70m. from the 2007 budget. MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) lamented that the 2008 budget proposal had not been "given to MKs in advance and was not detailed enough," but Knesset Director-General Avi Balashnikov noted that the budget proposal was "straightforward and balanced." The current Knesset schedule still maintains that the vote on the Economics Arrangements Bill will take place Monday evening, while the vote on the 2008 budget will occur Wednesday.