Lower house passes state budget bill in first reading

Miroslav Kalousek, photo: CTK

On Wednesday evening, following a thirty-hour session and after eleven hours of opposition filibustering, the lower house passed the draft state budget for 2012 in its first reading. A majority of 102 deputies for the centre-right coalition Civic Democrats, TOP 09 and Public Affairs approved its revenues, expenditures and deficit figures. The draft budget proposes a deficit of 105 billion crowns, or 3.2 percent of GDP, but could be subject to changes in January.

Miroslav Kalousek, photo: CTK
Even though it was clear that the governing coalition had enough votes to push through the state budget draft, the opposition demanded its revision citing a more gloomy economic prediction released by the Finance Ministry earlier this week. The opposition Social Democrats and Communists warned that the proposed budget cuts would damage the economy and social services and a rise in VAT would reduce household spending. They also criticised what they see as a lack of measures for stimulating growth and competitiveness. The government acknowledged the budget plan was based on a more optimistic economic forecast for next year, but Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said the cabinet was prepared to reflect the changed situation.

“The government is ready – in case it is indispensable and the risk of that is great – to put forward an amended version of the state budget proposal at the start of next year based on further knowledge and greater certainty.”

Bohuslav Sobotka, Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: CTK
A final vote on the current version of the state budget is scheduled for December 14.

The lower house on Wednesday resumed debate on fifteen bills rejected by the senate, including the health care, social and pension reforms bills. Opposition MPs have been holding a filibuster since Tuesday morning to obstruct the votes. Social Democrat chairman Bohuslav Sobotka:

“I think it is a success. We managed to extend the debate on the first item, which is an amendment to the law on building savings rejected by the senate, for a whole three days. We started discussing in on Tuesday morning and the vote will take place probably on Thursday evening, so it is three days.”

Nevertheless Prime Minister Petr Nečas is hopeful his coalition will eventually push the bills through.

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
“In my view such filibustering with its only aim to cause a deadlock to the constitutional body makes no sense. It’s not just one or two items on the agenda but this is an obvious attempt to boycott the operation of the lower house and I am glad that the governing coalition has showed great resilience and resistance and bit by bit we will work our way to a positive result.”

President Václav Klaus was critical of the Social Democrats’ delay tactics saying they did not realize the seriousness of the economic situation. Social Democrat chairman Bohuslav Sobotka replied his party’s response was adequate to the type of changes proposed by the cabinet and added the president previously never criticized similar actions by his own former party the Civic Democrats.