Finance Committee OKs budget
By SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL

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The Knesset Finance Committee approved the 2006 State Budget and Economics Arrangement Bill kicking of a three-day marathon Monday to pass the budget package through a final vote within the next 48 hours.

Already more than five months late, the budget has been a major point of contention within the fledgling Knesset as both coalition and opposition MKs have decried what they call “the budget saga.”

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Through a series of last minute deals in which the government persuaded the Israel Beitenu and National Union-National Religious Party MKs to abstain from the vote, it appeared Monday night that the government would be successful in passing the budget package by Wednesday, said a Finance Committee Spokesman.

The saga began in the previous Knesset. Because the 16th Knesset was dispersed before it managed to pass the 2006 budget the new government was granted 45 days, from the day in which the Knesset was sworn in, to pass the budget. With that deadline looming, Olmert made the support of the budget the cornerstone to his coalition negotiations. The 67-member MK coalition that Olmert leads would have cleared the majority needed to pass the budget, but internal troubles within the Labor and Kadima parties have threatened the vote and shaken the coalition in its first month in office.

In Kadima, MK Marina Solodkin has already announced that she will abstain from the vote in protest of the lack of “immigrant representation in ministerial positions.” The Russian-born Solodkin placed high on the Kadima list and was expected to receive a ministerial position.
Meanwhile, in Labor, new MKs Shelly Yachimovich and Yoram Marciano still hang in the balance, after abstaining from the first vote on the budget out of “socioeconomic concerns.”

Yachimovich, who was granted a slot on the special committee for the arrangements bill, said Sunday that she had achieved success in the committee and would vote in favor of the bill, only to waver Monday after funds for Holocaust survivors were not including in the final version of the budget.

For many MKs, the greatest irony of the budget arises over its most popular nickname “Bibi’s budget,” since the budge itself was created by Likud Leader Binyamin Netanyahu during his term as Finance Minister. Due to the lineup of the new government, however, Netanyahu and his party will vote against the budget.

“Of course it breaks my heart to vote for ‘Bibi’s budget,’ but I’m part of the coalition so I must,” said MK Avishay Braverman (Labor). “The real fight is over the 2007 budget.”
Many MKs echoed Braverman’s sentiments, and said that they would “close their eyes and hold their noses” while voting.

“The Knesset is not a yoga studio, we are not here for our souls,” said one Labor official. “It may ‘corrupt and tarnish’ your soul to vote for a budget you hate. But hey, that’s the Knesset.”