The Bottom Line / A Failing Grade

The Economic Arrangements Law for 2007 started out slowly. The Budgets Division of the Finance Ministry proposed an anemic and not at all revolutionary bill, since it clearly understood its masters' will.

But even this little law went through a slimming process at the hands of the attorney general, and then was eroded away in another round with the finance minister and the prime minister. They said about this section or another: "This one is impossible to pass for political reasons."

Then, afterward, during the Cabinet debate on the law, the ministers slashed away several chunks. And then, of course, the bill reached the Knesset, a sad and limping little law, dependent on the goodwill and charity of our honorable representatives.

Then they started to compete against each other to see who could cripple it the most - who could remove the largest number of reforms.

Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, with exuberant but mistaken encouragement from the Knesset's legal adviser, Nurit Elstein, started her rear echelon attack on the law, too.

But then Ruhama Avraham, the chair of the Knesset House Committee, quickly took on the leadership of the attack against the bill as her own personal crusade. She achieved a series of impressive reports and photographs in the media. And that is what is important in these times. The result was that the House Committee removed two important reforms from the law: changes in the corporate structure of the health maintenance organizations; and the reorganization of the Bailiff's Office. That was Avraham's great victory: The public will receive worse and more expensive care from their HMOs and from the Bailiff's Office.

Afterward, as the legislative process wears on, a few other important changes were also struck from the bill, as well as sections being cut and sent for deliberation by various Knesset committees.

In a similar fashion, the chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, Moshe Sharoni of the Pensioners Party, decided to cancel two more very important reforms: Granting power to the Health Ministry to enlarge the list of medications not requiring a prescription, which would lower their price to the general public, and approval for nurses to prescribe certain medications, which would make the health system more efficient.

It seems that Sharoni also wants to join the quite respectable list of those who are trying to harm the interests of the general public.

In addition, there is also a good possibility that the change in the law that would make it difficult for young people under age 28 to collect unemployment benefits will also be canceled: Even though everyone knows that such young people can and need to work, and not become used to living at the state's expense.

And that is how, through a destructive political process, the anemic and not revolutionary Economic Arrangements Law turned into a weak and miserable law that is an embarrassment to its name.

Today's economic growth, which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is so proud to talk about as often as possible, is the result of three revolutionary Economic Arrangements Laws passed by then Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who provided the engines of growth with the high-quality fuel they require.

That is why we today are enjoying 5 percent economic growth despite the war in Lebanon and the threats coming from Iran. But this fuel is running out, and there is no one left to fill up the tanks.

Olmert is not capable of controlling the Knesset; in fact, he cannot even control the members of his own coalition.

Every MK is a law unto himself - and they are all fighting over who can be the biggest populist. And there is even a coalition whip, Avigdor Yitzhaki, who wants to depose the prime minister; as well as a chairman of the Finance Committee, Yakov Litzman, who shoots down every Cabinet decision.

This is a rather absurd situation.

But probably the most important factor is that Olmert has a weak finance minister who does not push for reforms; who does not provide any support for the Budgets Division of his own ministry; and cannot maneuver the around Finance Committee.

No one is afraid of Abraham Hirchson. MKs have simply made a fool of him. The problem is that the joke is on us, all of us, who will have to suffer for it.