Knesset expected to pass budget after all-night slog through objections
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Knesset expected to pass budget after all-night slog through objections

Opposition trying to filibuster bill beyond Thursday’s deadline with 700 ammendments that must be voted on one by one; if not passed, government will be forced to resign

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during vote on the state budget for 2015-2016, November 18, 2015. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during vote on the state budget for 2015-2016, November 18, 2015. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset members began voting Wednesday evening on some 700 amendments to the 2015-2016 budget, a process that is expected to last all night, as lawmakers race to pass the fiscal plan before a Thursday deadline that would force the government to call new elections.

The amendments, whittled down from some 32,000 submitted by the opposition in a bid to filibuster the budget and fell the government, must all be voted on before the budget — which consists of four separate bills — is voted on.

While less than two months remaining until the end of the year, the two-year budget officially covers 2015 and 2016.

Due to the break up of Netanyahu’s previous government at the end of 2014 and the subsequent March elections, the government has been functioning on a month-to-month budget based on the previous year’s spending.

The new budget proposal totals NIS 383.8 billion ($98.2 billion) in 2015 spending and NIS 424.8 billion ($108.6 billion) in 2016.

NIS 395 billion ($101 billion) was earmarked for the fiscal year 2013 and NIS 406.2 billion ($104 billion) for 2014.

Included in the final bill is Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galil Aryeh Deri’s controversial proposal to cut the 17% sales tax on public transportation. He had pledged to cut the tax on basic food products during the election campaign but was forced to drop the proposal following opposition from the Finance Ministry. Instead, he demanded the cut be introduced on public transport.

Another point of contention was the allocation for defense needs with officials from the Finance and Defense Ministries going head to head.

The final agreement, a compromise between the NIS 54 billion ($13.8 billion) offered by Finance Ministry officials and the NIS 62 billion ($15.8 billion) requested by the military, includes provisions for beginning the implementation of structural changes in the IDF, in exchange for an additional NIS 3 billion ($770 million) to be transferred during the year. A further NIS 1 billion ($260 million) is to be transferred to the defense budget to account for price increases and inflation, bringing the total potential sum to NIS 60.1 billion ($15.47 billion).

The Knesset plenary during vote on the state budget for 2015-2016, November 18, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Knesset plenary during vote on the state budget for 2015-2016, November 18, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu praised the final proposal in Sunday’s cabinet meeting saying it “maintains a proper, responsible macroeconomic framework for Israel, but also adds billions to education, welfare and health, and is accompanied by very important reforms to lower the cost of living, streamline our bureaucracy and advance the Israeli economy.”

In a delaying tactic, the opposition had proposed 32,000 objections to be individually considered before the Knesset can vote on the budget itself. The mandated minimum time for debate on each motion would have generated at least 266 hours of debate, filibustering the vote past the deadline.

But the committee in charge of Knesset procedure ruled on Tuesday that the unprecedented number of reservations submitted on the two-year budget would be consolidated to several hundred, lumping together the objections by topic.

The voting got off to a bumpy start with apparent technical difficulties, and a number of lawmakers voting the wrong way, a costly issue considering the coalition’s razor-thin 61-59 majority.

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel at one point voted the wrong way on an amendment, causing a tie, which forced the Knesset Finance Committee to call a meeting to discuss the amendment, resulting in a delay in Knesset activity.

After Committee chair Moshe Gafni tried to nix any discussion in the meeting, opposition whip Merav Michaeli wrote a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, though she accidentally signed her title as coalition whip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was another lawmaker caught snoozing during a vote, casting a ballot the wrong way before quickly reversing it.

Edelstein earlier ordered a new vote after an early amendment by Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir passed 47-43. The Knesset speaker instructed the Knesset’s tech team to examine the system since the number of votes did not add up to 120.

Edelstein then ordered a new vote, prompting fierce criticism from the opposition who insisted the system was working fine.

“You can’t just have another vote because you don’t like the result,” said Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich.

Voting is expected to go on until 5 a.m. Thursday morning. In the rare chance the budget fails to gain support from a majority of Knesset Members, new elections must be held within three months.

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