Gov't fails to stem the tide of private member's bills

Costly bills opposed by the government become law; Sheetrit: "I have never before seen a Knesset, a coalition that behaves this way."

knesset 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
knesset 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Hours before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert walked toward the podium to make his dramatic speech Wednesday night, he took a series of less dramatic steps when he walked off the Knesset floor as bill after bill opposed by the government passed plenum votes by wide margins. The deluge of private member's bills, opposed by the government because of the strains put on the budget, was one of the defining characteristics of the Knesset's summer session, which closed Wednesday evening - and turned out to be a fatal crack in Olmert's armor. In the early weeks of the session, longtime MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) warned that the lack of coalition discipline evident in losses on such private member's bills could eventually bring down the government. "The strength of the government isn't really tested with the no-confidence votes held in the plenum on Mondays, but in the private member's bills that fill the plenum on Wednesdays. "A government is tested by its ability to repel private member's bills, particularly populistic ones, where many of the coalition MKs support the bill but that the government opposes on a budgetary basis, because the law does not fit in with their order of preferences," said Rivlin - a comment that proved prophetic. Earlier this week, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On lashed out at Kadima members during the party's weekly faction meeting, complaining that laws that are opposed by the Ministerial Committee on the basis of budgetary concerns are then supported by individual party members on the house floor. Bar-On singled out laws that were not just supported - but even spearheaded - by Kadima members against the government's interest that cost the treasury an estimated NIS 3 billion. Taking fire from Kadima MKs who supported their actions by pointing out that if they didn't, their party would be singled out as anti-social welfare, Bar-On threatened that he would settle accounts in the upcoming Economic Arrangements Bill. The finance minister said that he would write "with thanks to MK --" next to each budget cut made to account for expenses incurred by bills opposed by the coalition. But despite Bar-On's fury, the coalition continued to wear its weakness on its sleeve from the first rounds of voting during the Wednesday plenum session. The first bills presented on the floor - extension of maternity leave and tax credits for child-care expenses - were both opposed by the government but passed their first readings by wide margins, 54-38 and 60-31 respectively. Those bills were typical of the sort of legislation that burst through coalition dams throughout the session - privately sponsored bills with wide support in the general public, co-sponsored by coalition and opposition MKs together. The real problems, however, came a bit later, when costly bills passed their second and third readings and were made law. Four of the priciest of those for the Finance Ministry were the Law to Protect Pre-Military Academies and three laws to dissolve the unifications of Druse towns - all of which passed with the support of the over 50 votes necessary to approve budgetary bills. The price tag for the four bills alone totaled over NIS 80,000,000. "I have never before seen a Knesset, a coalition that behaves this way," complained Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit on the plenum floor as he stood alone to voice his opposition to the three bills regarding the Druse towns. Sheetrit complained that the bill's supporters - both in the coalition and opposition - were operating with populistic, political interests as opposed to considering what was actually best for the future of the towns in question.