Olmert warns Kadima leadership candidates on budget support

PM holds 'updating session' with Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On.

Bar-on fed up 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Bar-on fed up 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The handful of MKs present in Wednesday's special Knesset session railed against the 2009 budget on the house floor. But the people they were railing against - Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - were elsewhere having their own meeting on the budget ahead of Sunday's cabinet meeting. Olmert and Bar-On held what Olmert's office termed an "updating session" together with senior Treasury officials in advance of the Sunday cabinet meeting, in which recalcitrant ministers are likely to put up a fight against Bar-On's two proposals. "It isn't good for the decision about the budget to be delayed and drawn-out," said Olmert at the meeting, adding a warning to the four ministers who are currently locked in a hot race for the party's chairmanship. "If the ministers decide to discuss the budget in October, the levels of freedom on those conducting negotiations will be smaller, and it will ultimately harm the ability to present a balanced and responsible budget. There should not be a connection made between the 2009 budget and the political negotiations to form a coalition." We must do what's best for the country in light of the complex economic situation that stands before us, he said. Olmert's comments were aimed specifically at Kadima candidates such as Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz who have already declared their opposition to the budget, or expressed interest that the budget be passed only after the primaries. Pushing back the vote until after the primaries is a strategy favored by the Labor Party, who feel that they have a chance at gaining more budgetary concessions if the budget vote is part of the coalition-building negotiations following the Kadima primaries. Olmert denied allegations that he had held discussions Tuesday with Labor Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak regarding raising the level of increase to the budget. Early morning reports Wednesday claimed that the two had reached a compromise in which the budget would increase by 2.2 percent rather than the currently slated 1.7%, but Olmert emphasized that no agreement had been made that differed from Bar-On's current stance. During the meeting, Olmert also instructed Treasury officials to continue discussions with other government ministries in the hopes of settling conflicts and allotting necessary resources to the ministries within the framework of the current budget. Bar-On took a verbal beating, in absentia, from MKs on the house floor during Wednesday's special session. The plenum was called into session through the signatures of over 25 MKs, who demanded a discussion on the floor of the budget presented by Bar-On. But while MKs had already come ready to fight, their anger was compounded when they realized that Bar-On himself was not present to defend his budget against the legislature's attacks. MKs from coalition parties Labor and Shas condemned the minister's absence - cries that were echoed by MKs from UTJ and Meretz as well. MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) pushed MKs to boycott votes on any government-sponsored legislation as punishment for what he termed the government's complete disregard for the role of the legislature.