Budget Passes by One Vote

The Cabinet passed the 2009 budget by one vote in a 2 AM vote, with Labor and Shas voting against. Histadrut agrees not to call general strike.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu and Hillel Fendel ,

Budget Cuts Hit Weak Sectors
Budget Cuts Hit Weak Sectors

After a marathon 16-hour session, the Cabinet approved the proposed 2009 budget by a 13-12 vote at 2 AM Monday morning.  It ended with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert winning his demands, and Labor and Shas voting against the budget. Labor Minister of Sport Raleb Majadle threatened earlier on Sunday that Labor ministers would quit the Cabinet if the budget were passed and Olmert later said they would be fired if they did not support the government proposal.

Histadrut union leader Ofir Eini said the last-minute compromises by Finance Minister Roni Bar-On (Kadima) on social spending satisfied most of his demands and that he will not call for a general strike, as he had threatened last week.  Bar-On said that the passing of the budget was "an important accomplishment."

The debate was permeated with accusations by Labor that Finance Minister Bar-On actually wanted the budget to fail in order to help force the government to fall, a move which might help Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, whom he backs, to win the leadership primaries.  Similarly, Labor party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak was accused of pulling out all stops to have the budget defeated, for political reasons.  Barak failed in his attempt to have the vote postponed until week, and Kadima leaders condemned him for politicking instead of studying the proposed budget.

"It's a shame the defense minister is not studying the budget thoroughly, because he is absent [from the meeting] most of the time," said Prime Minister Olmert.  The Labor party chairman retorted that he was consulting with ministers, while the government refused to achieve "a sensible, balanced budget."

Later, Barak complained that the vote was held at such a late hour that the ministers could barely understand what they were voting for. Olmert retorted that if Barak's demands had been met, "you wouldn't be complaining about how late it is."

Yishai of Shas
Despite Olmert's promise to fire ministers who did not accept the Cabinet decision, Shas Party leader Eli Yishai, the Minister of Industry and Trade, said, "This is an imaginary, virtual budget that perpetuates the crushing of the weaker classes, and that the next coalition will certainly totally overturn.  If the government does not re-think this, it too will soon become virtual."

Finance Minister Bar-On had presented the ministers with two alternative budget proposals: one with a sharp cut in defense spending, and one that diverted the cut to national welfare needs.  In the end, Welfare Minister Yitzchak Herzog (Labor) expressed satisfaction that the welfare budget was not harmed.  He said he was not happy, however, with the "defense-or-welfare" choice presented by the Finance Minister. 

Barak later said that the budget will undergo some changes - an apparent reference to additional allocations to the defense budget that were promised to him.