Budget crisis ends as coalition musters votes to pass cuts

The rebellion in Labor ended with a whimper on Sunday night when the coalition obtained the votes necessary to pass the budget cuts needed to finance the war in Lebanon in a vote on Monday morning at the Knesset. Labor MK Avishay Braverman, who led the struggle against the cuts, had not yet decided how to vote at press time. But he was surprised to hear that his vote would not matter, because the coalition had a 10-8 majority on the committee without him. Three Labor MKs and one from the Pensioners Party had announced their intention to oppose the cuts last week, angering coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki and forcing a delay in the vote three times. Yitzhaki urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to expand the coalition or replace Labor with right-wing parties to end the rebellion. But Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson subdued the rebellion in a cheaper and less complicated way on Sunday. First, he met with Minister-without-Portfolio Rafi Eitan and promised to distribute funds to his bureau in the Prime Minister's Office that will eventually become a separate ministry for seniors' affairs. Eitan had demanded that the ministry be created immediately but he made do with a promise that the ministry would be formed soon. Then he met with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Labor's three representatives on the Finance Committee. MK Orit Noked gave in and decided to vote in favor of the cuts "under protest." MK Shelly Yacimovich said she could not make Monday's vote and will be replaced by MK Ephraim Sneh, who will vote in favor. Braverman, who was left all alone in his rebellion, said he would consider voting in favor if Finance Ministry officials came to the committee and explained why it was necessary to cut cabinet ministries' budgets instead of taking funds from government reserves. Hirchson refused, knowing that he had a majority without Braverman. But there is still one way for the vote to not pass. Committee chairman Ya'acov Litzman might not allow the vote to take place. Litzman was upset when Hirchson delayed the vote on Thursday without informing him. Litzman convened the committee on Thursday and bashed Hirchson. As of late Sunday, the vote was not on the committee's agenda for Monday morning.