'PM won't fire Barak over budget row'

Olmert aides: Barak will remain in his position even if Labor ministers oppose budget proposal.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit: )
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will not fire Defense Minister and Labor chairman Ehud Barak, aides to the prime minister said on Tuesday morning. According to the aides, Barak will remain in his position even if Labor ministers oppose the 2009 annual budget proposal, Army Radio reported. Olmert and Barak spoke on Monday and both sides described the conversation as "good." Senior Labor officials said Tuesday morning that they sought to postpone the vote on the budget until after the Kadima primaries, when it is likely to be a key issue in building a new coalition. The Labor faction said Monday evening that it would vote against the 2009 budget in its current form, raising the prospects of a new political crisis between Kadima and Labor. In doing so, the faction accepted the recommendation of Finance Committee chairman Avishai Braverman, who said Labor should demand an increase of 2.5 percent to the budget limit - instead of the Finance Ministry's proposed 1.7%. Labor also plans to advance agreements on the issue with Shas and the Pensioners Party - who have already expressed reservations with the budget - in order to present a united front to Kadima. Barak criticized the Treasury's proposal to make sizable cuts to either the defense budget or the welfare budget, saying it was not right to create a dilemma between the two, and stating that there were more than just those two options. Barak attacked Kadima for allowing the budget to become enveloped in the race between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who supports passing it before the primary, and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who believes the budget's passage should wait until the race is over and it is clear whether a new government could be formed. "It is too bad that the government debate over the budget has been dragged into the political machinations inside Kadima," Barak told the faction. "The budget should not be brought down to the level of petty political fighting." Barak reiterated his opposition to cutting the defense budget. Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel endorsed Mofaz's view that the cabinet's vote on the budget, which is set for next Sunday, should be delayed. The faction later voted to oppose the budget on Sunday. "It's forbidden to vote on Sunday, because after the election in Kadima, either there will be a new government or an election, and if there is an election, the debate on the budget will be part of our campaign."