Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Passing the Budget

This is not a post on specific measure that may or may not be in the budget. That will happen shortly. What I want to think about today is the politics and numbers of getting the budget passed in December as any loss of supply on a finance bill requires immediate dissolution of the Dáil and a General Election.

At present things are finely balanced in the Dáil. Jim McDaid's resignation this morning means the government have an 82-79 majority which relies on the 3 un-whipped FFers (Devins, Scanlon and McGrath) and two independents (Lowry and Healy-Rae). When it comes to the budget none of these votes can be counted on by the government side. The two Sligo deputies are the most likely to back Lenihan as they are only outside the party on health issues. McGrath is a complete wild card and unless something specific is promised to Tipperary South in terms of health or investment he could well jump ship. Lowry, with his half billion Tipperary Venue green lighted, is now good to face the electorate. Only Healy-Rae is likely to cling to FF as his seat is seen as the most vulnerable to a Labour bounce in Kerry South.

From the opposition point of view they should all be voting against the budget on a matter of principle and to pile the pressure on the above named wobblers. But a small part of me wonders whether it is in the best interests of FG and Lab to have the budget fail. Say the first vote fails on 7th December then the last possible date for the subsequent general election is Thursday 6th January. With Christmas and the New Year intervening I'm pretty sure the public at large or the foot soldiers doing the canvassing won't thank them.

Secondly, and more importantly, if a harsh budget is pushed through, we then move into by-election mode where the government are going to loose at least 3 of them. If they were to loose all 4 then it is all over straight away as the maths moves to 82-83. So facing this possibility the government may just cut its losses in March before holding the by-elections. Having a spring general election would allow the opposition to campaign on the unfair cuts and taxes imposed by the outgoing government, propose alternatives and still benefit from the savings made for 2011, or at least a period in 2011 before an emergency budget was put in place by whatever grouping takes charge.

Of course, if the High Court come back tomorrow and order the by-elections before the budget then we could be facing an general election sooner than we think.

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