Bill to guard national budget passes - sort of

Bill to guard national b

One week into the Knesset's winter session, the opposition was up to its old tricks again, boycotting on Monday a key vote on a bill that would make it harder to pass budgetary private members' bills against the will of the government. Although the coalition's bill won a majority of votes during the afternoon plenum session, the opposition claimed victory after Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was forced to approve the bill only conditionally, pending further examination of the constitutional precedent. The administration of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had promoted the bill as a way to guard the national budget against frivolous expenses incurred as part of political machinations. In the final days of the previous Knesset, in the summer of 2008, Netanyahu's own Likud used the same type of private members' bills to push the coalition into a budgetary corner. But shortly after crossing the aisle, the party pushed for new legislation that would demand a special majority of 55 votes to approve any private legislation that would cost the government more than NIS 5 million. Opposition members cried foul, arguing once again that Netanyahu's government was trying to "change the rules in the middle of the game." The opposition began the exercise by attempting to catch coalition MKs off-guard, pulling the first order of business - no-confidence motions - off the agenda. As a result, the vote on the controversial bill was held immediately at the start of the session. Environmental Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan took the platform in an effort to buy time and allow coalition MKs to arrive for the vote. With Kadima faction chairwoman Dalia Itzik serving as opposition whip, rushing from representative to representative to solidify the strategy, MK after MK on Monday refused to vote on the bill during the roll-call vote on the floor. Rivlin requested that the house stenographers record those MKs conspicuously present and not voting as such, rather than the usual procedure of registering them as absent. In addition to the unified opposition protest, the opposition argued that because the bill was an amendment to Basic Law: The National Economy, it required a supermajority of 61 to pass the house. In response to the opposition's claims, Rivlin determined that he "conditionally" approved the law, and instructed that it be delayed en route to its next stop - a hearing in the House Committee - until legal experts determined whether the vote was permissible. "A conditional coalition passed a conditional law," said Kadima spokesman Shmulik Dahan. "The opposition will continue to fight the coalition's attempts to make Israeli democracy fit Netanyahu's needs. Bibi should remember that the coalition can attempt to pass laws, but we will expose their scandalous nature." Dahan was not alone in engaging in some pugnacious word-play. MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-UAL) described the government as "a very right-wing government, but one with two left hands," and also blasted the coalition for "trying to write new rules to the game in this house, though an automatic majority that allows for changes to laws."