Knesset gears up for budget marathon

48-hour delay over the vote was considered a small victory by opposition MKs.

At the prompting of opposition MKs, who insisted that they had not had enough time to review the budget, the Knesset began marathon deliberations Monday over the 2006 state budget. Initially, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik had scheduled the first reading and vote over the budget for Monday's session. Following the opposition of several MKs from both within and outside the coalition, Itzik agreed to move the vote to Wednesday. In the next two days, the Knesset will conduct talks from morning to 11 p.m. The Interim Knesset House Committee, which issued the official ruling on the delay, said it would provide time for "a thorough debate and examination of the budget." The 48-hour delay over the budget vote was considered a small victory by opposition MKs, which included several members of Labor and the Gil Pensioners Party in addition to the parties outside the coalition. While Kadima MKs shrugged off the delay, calling it a "generous gesture" to allow other parties to review the budget, others said it pointed to the weakness of Olmert's coalition. "It's the first week in the Knesset and Olmert's government is already coming apart at the seams," said one Likud MK. "That's what happens when you have a small coalition of the greedy." In addition to the opposition parties, several coalition MKs have also announced that they would vote against the budget in its current form. In a Labor faction meeting Monday, Defense Minister and Party Chairman Amir Peretz called on all MKs to support the budget. "We all know that we need to pass the budget's first reading to get it the Finance Committee. In the committee, the changes we need to see will be made," said Peretz. "We all know that the budget, when it leaves the committee, will not look anything like the budget that entered the committee… Delays in getting the budget to the committee only give us less time to alter it there." Labor MKs Shelly Yachimovich, Yoram Marciano and Nadia Hilou have stated that they have serious apprehensions about voting in favor of the current budget. During Monday's faction meeting, Eran Hermoni, the chairman of the Labor's Young Guard, also urged against voting for the budget. "We cannot continue to sit here, in our posts in the Knesset, and do nothing over the fact that more and more children do not have enough to eat," said Hilou. "If the budget is not changed to do more for the weaker sectors of society I will vote against it." Several Gil MKs also threatened to vote against the budget, and possibly withdraw from the coalition altogether if the hike in bread prices were not revoked. "This way of thinking, this budget, is abnormal and unfair," said MK Moshe Sharoni (Pensioners). "Where is the Labor Party in all of this, the so-called socially minded party? The government is giving NIS 1.3 billion to Shas, and doesn't have a few million to keep from raising the price of bread?" Sharoni said that as many as six other members of Gil could leave the coalition over the issue. On Sunday, the cabinet approved the NIS 284.2 billion budget, together with the Economic Arrangements Law. In its current form, the budget is identical to the one prepared by Likud leader and former finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu and presented to the Knesset in October 2005. After an initial reading and vote, the budget will go to the Knesset Finance Committee for changes and then back to the plenum for a second and third vote. It must be passed by June 17, exactly 45 days after the new government took office. Meanwhile, the Knesset voted down its first no-confidence motion against the government in a vote of 50 against, 28 for, and 20 abstentions. Israel Beiteinu presented the motion, citing the recent rise in the price of bread.