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Israel’s biennial budget passes after opposition filibuster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli lawmakers passed the nation’s 2013-14 state budget after 15 hours of debate.

The budget — $110 billion for 2013 and $113 billion for 2014 — passed in the Knesset at about 3 a.m. Tuesday by a 58-43 vote following a filibuster by the opposition during which each of the 4,700 objections was to be submitted to a roll call.

Lawmakers could be seen reading books, texting and napping during the roll calls.

Halfway through the roll calls, the opposition agreed to withdraw its objections in exchange for the formation of a committee to review a provision of the Electoral Reform Bill that would raise the electoral threshold from 2 percent to 4 percent, thus preventing many smaller parties from reaching the Knesset.

Also Tuesday, the Knesset passed the Economics Arrangement Law on its second and third readings by a vote of 56-41. The law includes mechanisms to allow the regulation of new government policies such as raising the income tax rate and reducing monthly child allowance payments. It also institutes budget cuts to the Defense, Welfare, Education and Transportation ministries.

The biennial budget was the last to be passed by the Knesset. Beginning in 2015, Israeli budgets will be annual.

The opposition slammed Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who came into office on a wave of discontent over the economic situation in Israel.

“Lapid protested and rode the wave of the protest to his elite office, and today he became the presenter of this bad budget,” opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich said Tuesday of Lapid, who prior to his election to Knesset was what is called in Israel a news presenter.

Yachimovich objected to increases in the income tax and value added tax , as well as cuts in child allowances, health care, social care and education. She said the budget would increase inequality and “rob the middle class.”

“This budget hurts 99 percent of the public with a severity we haven’t seen in years,” she said.

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