Opposition moves to stymie budget bill at every turn

Insists on holding a full debate over each of the 268 clauses of the largest Economic Arrangements Bill in the legislature's history.

itzik cool 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
itzik cool 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
With even coalition MKs vociferously opposing aspects of the draft 2009/10 state budget and the Economic Arrangements Bill, the least the government could hope for was that the opposition would continue its two-day-old boycott and be absent on Thursday as the House Committee prepared the legislation for its second and third readings on the Knesset floor. What the government got instead was the opposition present in full force, insisting on holding a full debate over each of the 268 clauses of the largest Economic Arrangements Bill in the legislature's history. When opposition whip MK Dalia Itzik (Kadima) revealed that the opposition's latest tactic was the clause-by-clause filibuster, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said that "if the budget does not pass, we will go to elections." "This is a violent budget," Itzik responded, saying threats of elections were toothless. MK Ruhama Avraham (Kadima) added that the Economic Arrangements Bill was a "monstrous bill" and that there was no chance that the Knesset could finish discussions in time to cast a final vote on the budget within the set timeframe of three weeks. During the debate over dividing pieces of the massive legislation, MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) accused coalition chairman - and House Committee chairman - MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) of being a "dictator." Kadima officials said that Elkin was "trying to gag our mouths and to limit the length of debate on the budget." "This is a democratic institution and we will not allow this to continue," said Hasson. "You must understand this. We were elected to represent our constituency." Elkin responded to the verbal assault by saying, "I am sorry that MKs from the opposition are turning a serious and important discussion into a preschool, and are only dealing with yelling and personal insults instead of managing a relevant debate." Kadima lawmakers said they had discovered that the coalition agreements would cost cost the budget a total of NIS 2 billion, with Hasson saying it was "evidence that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bought the government in cash." Hours later, Elkin ejected Hasson from the House Committee meeting after he complained that the Finance Ministry's representative in attendance was a low-level official and demanded that a higher-level official be sent to participate in the debate. But opposition members were not the only MKs to threaten the budget's future in the Knesset. After the Finance Ministry retained in the draft budget the move to impose VAT on foreign tourists, Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov (Israel Beiteinu) said his party, a coalition partner, would vote against the entire budget if that clause were not removed before the bill's next reading. "This is a backwards move that will bring about the firing of thousands of workers and will deliver a mortal blow to the Israeli tourism industry which already took a hit from the economic crisis," he said. Disagreement within the coalition prior to the committee meeting erupted into shouting matches during a preliminary meeting, and as a result, the House Committee was forced to delay its meeting by a half hour. A third party joined the debate regarding the Economic Arrangements Bill when the opposition revealed before the committee meeting that Knesset legal adviser Nurit Elshtein had submitted a legal opinion blasting the fact that only approximately one out of five clauses in the bill dealt explicitly with the budget. During the committee meeting, Itzik suggested that the committee refrain from discussing all the clauses that Elshtein found irrelevant to the budget. In the meantime, Meretz chairman Haim Oron opened an additional front in the continuing battle between coalition and opposition when he turned to cabinet secretary Tzvika Hauser to ask him to change aspects of the so-called Mofaz Bill that is at the heart of the current Knesset crisis. Elkin said in response that Oron's proposal was not acceptable, as "the current format is the one that will strengthen and guarantee governmental stability and will prevent the establishment of fragments of factions within the Knesset." Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni are scheduled to hold a legally-mandated meeting on Friday, during which they are expected to discuss the stalemate within the Knesset.