2005 -Budget ?!

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned yesterday that if the entire Likud Knesset ffailed to vote in favor of the 2005 budget, the government was likely to fall. Speaking to Likud wives at a gathering in Tel Aviv to mark International Women’s Day, Sharon urged his audience members to use their influence on their spouses to convince them to support the budget. „We are facing a problem today,” Sharon said. „And our problem is that there is a group within the Likud fthat is threatening to vote against the budget and thereby topple a Likud government. This has to be clear: A vote against the budget means the toppling of our government. I am sure that none of you wants this to happen, and I am sure that you will make every effort to prevent the toppling of the Likud government … BPI-info

„I ask you to wield your influence and make every effort to prevent a situation in which a Likud government falls due to the fact that a group among the Likud Knesset fis announcing that it will vote against the budget on the day it is presented.” Despite his ongoing efforts, Sharon has yet to muster a Knesset majority in favor of the 2005 state budget. Sharon and Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon met yesterday with MKs David Tal (One Nation) and Yosef Paritzky (Shinui) in an attempt to secure their support. Tal said he would vote against the budget unless his demands for more funds for the health-services basket, children at risk and other welfare matters were met. „If you show compassion, I am prepared to show understanding,” Tal said to Sharon, adding after the meeting that he wouldn’t be able to support the budget under the assumption that the prime minister will not be able to make substantial changes to the bill. For his part, Paritzky said he would abstain, but added that he would cast a vote in favor of the budget if the Knesset passed a law that allowed individuals barred from marrying under Jewish law to get married in Israel. „Sharon asked Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon to review my proposal to legislate a law that would allow a non-Jewish Israeli citizen to marry a Jew in Israel,” Paritzky said after the meeting. Over the coming days, Sharon will meet with Likud and opposition lawmakers in an attempt to drum up a majority for the budget. The prime minister met on Wednesday with MK Gila Gamliel (Likud), who requested that the budget afford working mothers tax recognition for childcare for their children. Sharon said he was aware of the importance of the issue and promised to work with the treasury to implement a pilot on the matter in the framework of this year’s budget. Also yesterday, Tourism Minister Abraham Hirchson met with the treasury’s budgets director, Kobi Haber, and presented him with budget-related demands raised by Likud lawmakers on the Knesset Finance Committee. The Likud MKs are demanding an increase in the budget for the fund to aid small businesses, an increase in the Anti-Drug Authority’s budget, increased aid for new immigrants and more. Coalition whip MK Gideon Sa’ar estimated yesterday that the vote on the budget would take place toward the end of this month. If the Knesset fails to pass the budget on its second and third readings before March 31, parliament will disband and new elections will take place on June 28. BPI-info