Knesset approves state budget 53-22

Will be effective for less than half a year before work begins on 2007 budget.

olmert knesset 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
olmert knesset 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Knesset passed the 2006 State Budget Wednesday with 53 MKs voting in favor, 22 against, and 45 abstaining. The NIS 271.4 billion budget will be effective for less than half a year before the Knesset begins work on the next budget. Since the government was sworn in last month, the main item on the Knesset's agenda had been the passing of the budget and the Economics Arrangement Bill. According to the basic law of the Knesset, the government had 45 days to pass the two, or risk going to early elections. With ten days to spare, however, the government managed to meet the deadline through a series of deals that secured the necessary majority to pass the budget. On Tuesday, the government persuaded United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Israel Beitenu, and National Union-National Religious Party (NU-NRP) to abstain from the vote on the economics arrangement bill and budget by pledging to channel NIS 592 million to various organizations championed by those parties including Hesder Yeshivot and national service, as well as guaranteeing funds for disengagement evacuees and new immigrants. The right-wing parties gave their support on condition that the budget would not include funding for the realignment plan. Although the government needed a simple majority (more than half of the MKs present in the plenum) to vote in favor of the budget for it to pass, they struck deals with the majority of the opposition parties, leaving only Likud, Meretz and the Arab parties to vote against the bill. Debate over the Budget and Economics Arrangement bill began Monday, and often continued for ten to 12 hours each day. Often called "Bibi's budget," since it was drafted by Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu when he served as Finance Minister in the 16th Knesset, many MKs who voted in favor of the budget said that they were doing so to keep the coalition together. "This is not the budget that any of us wanted to pass, but we had to do it for the sake of the coalition," said MK Matan Vilna'I (Labor). "I hate that I must vote for it, but I do." For many, the greatest irony was in the protests raised by Netanyahu's Likud Party over the budget. "It just goes to show how twisted politics is, when the party that created the budget has to vote against it," said a Knesset official. Both MKs that voted against the budget, and those who voted against it, said that the real fight was over the 2007 budget. Even after the vote began, MKs were discussing ways in which the next time would be different. Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who walked out of the plenum with a relieved smile on her face, was stopped by a group of Labor MKs who let her know that she should "get in shape for a tough fight" over the battle to come.