(JNi.media) On Wednesday night, at the end of a seven-hour debate, a majority of 57 coalition MKs supported the Netanyahu government budget proposal, versus 53 opposition votes, with Minister of the Economy Aryeh Deri absent from the session during a vote so closely related to his office. Deri threatened that should the issue of zero VAT on essential products not be resolved by the following voting round, his party, Shas, would oppose the budget.
The Knesset’s first voting round approved the Budget bill for the years 2015-2016. Immediately thereafter, the Knesset passed the Economic Arrangements bill in a first vote, with Economy Minister Deri absent from that vote as well.
Immediately thereafter, the Knesset passed the Economic Arrangements Law first reading with the same. This vote also absent Economy Minister Deri.
The Economic Arrangements Law includes all the necessary changes in legislation needed to implement the measures the government wants to enact as part of the state budget. A new economic arrangements act has been presented annually to the Knesset since 1985, adjacent to the state budget proposal. The law is a set of proposed changes in many areas, each of which requires special legislation. Instead of drafting a bill on every individual subject, the government packs all those provisions in a single bill.
The state budget for 2015 will reach $84 billion, and $89 billion in 2016. The deficit target in 2016-2015 would be 2.9% of GDP. For comparison, Israel’s next door neighbor, Jordan, with roughly the same size population — about 8 million — has an annual budget of $10.5 billion.
A senior Shas official explained that Shas MKs approached Minister Aryeh Deri Wednesday night and expressed anger that the issue of the zero VAT on essential products has not been finalized with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, despite having been agreed on at the cabinet budget meeting. At a consequent meeting with his faction members, Deri ordered them to vote for the budget in the first round, but threatened that if the zero VAT legislation would not come through, the Shas faction would not support the budget.
Deri, who was absent from the vote, struck an offset deal with an opposition member who committed to also abstain. Altogether, the MKs did not permit the fact that not all coalition members were on hand at the vote to be turned into a consequent vote of no confidence, since such an attempt would have ended in little more than theatrics. On Wednesday night, MKs were more interested in addressing real issues.
Israel Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman slammed the budget proposal, calling it “Isra-bluff.” Lieberman asked, “How can we approve a budget without knowing the size of the defense budget, which counts for its largest part? How can we approve a budget when we’re told about 4%, across the board cuts?”
According to Lieberman, the problem is that the Prime Minister doesn’t know how to make decisions, only how to babble and chat.
Finance Minister Kahlon said the proposed budget is one of the best Israel has had in recent years. “The budget brings good news on the cost of living,” said Kahlon, adding that the greatest threat to the country’s stability are the social gaps: “This is a national task and this Government is working bring the periphery closer and promote competition,” he said.
“I became Minister of Finance in awe,” Kahlon told the Knesset. “What I’m trying to pass is an Israel in which there is equality, there is compassion, there is a mutual responsibility and there are social values. There are weak and poor among us, converts, widows and orphans. We mustn’t be cynical about this.”