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Budget compromises show Liberman knows what it will take to win – analysis

CM 02/09/2021

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Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman presented the budget to the Knesset on Thursday, and there will be many debates and fights ahead before it can finally be approved in three readings. But after compromises were reached Thursday morning on some of the budget’s most contentious subjects, and a framework for the first reading was approved in a 59-53 vote, doubts in Liberman’s ability to pass some of the most complicated and ambitious legislation in memory are starting to fade.
Thursday morning, just an hour before Liberman presented the budget on the Knesset floor, the Finance Ministry said an agreement had been reached with coalition members on the issue of raising the retirement age for women from 62 to 65. In addition to NIS 630 million shekels that had already been budgeted for work grants, vocational training and other programs that would help ease the transition to longer careers for women, it was agreed that several hundred million shekels would be added to the budget to provide an additional social safety net for underprivileged women in old age, in order to reduce the possible damage.
Among other things, the pension for women between age 62 and 65 will be increased by NIS 700 for a period of five years, at a total cost of NIS 150m.

An agreement was also reached regarding the agricultural reforms, which would increase competition in the agriculture industry and lower the prices of fruits, vegetables and eggs to the consumer. Liberman, Agriculture Minister Oded Forer, and other coalition members agreed to remove the part about the egg industry from the context of the Economic Arrangements Law, and debate that separately over the coming three months.
An area that remains to be resolved is regulatory reform. Even before the current government came into power, a plan was being developed to significantly reduce excess bureaucracy in government offices. Liberman has said the plan would streamline regulations for citizens and the government, and save the economy between NIS 7 billion and NIS 8b. a year. However, the Labor, Meretz and Blue and White parties say the creation of another government regulatory authority to cut down on regulation would interfere with the fundamental workings of the government, and make it more difficult for officials to pass and implement regulations.

 Liberman presents the budget for 2021-2022 at a Knesset meeting on Thursday, September 2, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Liberman presents the budget for 2021-2022 at a Knesset meeting on Thursday, September 2, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

But after clearing the path for other reforms, Liberman should have little difficulty pushing the regulatory reform and other final details through.
Liberman, a political veteran with more than two decades of experience in the Knesset, has played the entire process like a chess grandmaster, anticipating his opponents’ moves and planning several steps ahead. His agreement two weeks ago to remove 30% of the draft legislation of the Economic Arrangements Law was a traditional smokescreen employed by other finance ministers, removing decoy legislation (known in Hebrew as “goats”) that was known to be controversial in order to reach consensus on other proposals. Liberman has shown himself to be a master of showing flexibility while playing hardball, ultimately getting everything he wants.
Liberman gave in to Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz with an extra NIS 2b. for the health budget, and added NIS 7b. to the defense budget to appease Defense Minister Benny Gantz. A set of reforms to the kashrut market that would effectively end the Chief Rabbinate’s long-held monopoly over the kashrut-supervision industry was left out of the Economic Arrangements Law due to political considerations, and the NIS 150b. budget for the Dan region’s new metro was separated out of the budget plan to be legislated separately.
Liberman has noted that with such a limited time frame for the government to pass the 2021-2022 budget, it would be impossible to include everything this time around. Liberman believes that time is on his side, and that he’ll have plenty more chances to push forward his agendas.
For all the concern about the differing agendas within the government that assumed power in June, the coalition has shown itself to be surprisingly amenable to compromising in the interest of getting things done. Liberman has repeatedly reminded himself and those around him that this coalition can only work if everyone focuses on their job only, and avoids commenting publicly on the business of other ministries outside their purview.
It helps that the MKs in the coalition have a hard deadline affecting their futures. The Knesset will have to approve the budget in three readings by November 14 or the government will be automatically dissolved and snap elections will be called. Obtaining a majority of 61 to approve the budget will require everyone in the coalition to be on board.
Of course, there is a long way to go before the budget is finally approved, and there will be more challenges ahead. But Liberman’s recent deal-making indicates that he is prepared for what may be in store.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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