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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Budget Stumbles at Obstacle in Duma

After four months of lengthy consideration and three chaotic votes Wednesday, the lower house of parliament could not muster enough support to approve Russia's 1994 budget. If the State Duma fails again to finalize the draft budget in a fourth vote Friday, the government will be left without a spending plan for the second half of the year. A clear majority of the voters in the State Duma on Wednesday favored the relatively tight draft budget, which includes a deficit of just under 10 percent of the gross domestic product. But swing voters from the Communist and Liberal Democratic factions, apparently under pressure from defense spending lobbies, dropped their support for the draft. At each of three votes, the draft fell just short the required minimum of 226 votes -- half the number of deputies plus one. More than 100 of the 450 deputies were missing, while others did not vote or abstained on what was widely considered the most important vote in the Duma since its election last December. Livid after thrice failing to convince the Duma to adopt the budget, speaker Ivan Rybkin told the deputies he would cancel all the deputies' official trips for Friday and force them to attend the fourth vote, even though the Duma's regulations allow only one vote. In three preliminary votes earlier this year, just enough deputies showed up and voted for the budget to get it passed. Wednesday's vote was supposed to be a mere formality before the budget went on to the upper house, the Federation Council, for final approval. The Federation Council, which can only approve or veto the draft without changes, urged the Duma on Tuesday to boost defense spending. In its last preliminary vote earlier this month, the Duma rejected a call by the upper chamber to boost spending on defense to 55 trillion rubles ($28 billion), quickly adopting a government-sponsored draft with only 40.6 trillion rubles in defense spending. Spending stood at 194.5 trillion rubles, and revenues at 124.5 trillion rubles. But on Wednesday some voters, including Communists and Liberal Democrats, backed away from the draft and opted not to vote at all. Vladimir Lysichkin, a prominent economist in the ultranationalist faction of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said that spending on defense and the regions was too low, although he refused to say why that had not been an objection in the earlier vote. Pro-government deputies, who have favored tight spending, were either utterly divided or missing. Part of the Russia's Choice faction voted for the draft, while others demanded more spending on health care or rejected the budget for excessive spending on agriculture. In total, 202 of the 450 deputies voted differently on Wednesday than at the last vote. The Duma ignored a warning from the acting Finance Minister, Sergei Dubinin, that the government required a budget by July 1 to obtain Central Bank loans to help pay for expenses. Without the vote, the government can only use tax revenues, which cover less than 60 percent of expenditures, he warned. Dubinin said a rejection of the budget would also jeopardize a raise in the minimum wage and government salaries by 40 percent, approved unanimously by the Duma on Wednesday. The minimum monthly wage was set at 20,500 rubles. Dubinin's aide Yevgeny Buchelnikov said in a telephone interview that the Finance Ministry had already prepared a draft mini-budget for the third quarter of this year, but that bill also requires approval from the Duma, which goes on holiday next month. Dubinin, in an interview with The Moscow Times, insisted that the multiple rejection of the budget was not a no-confidence vote in the government. "The Duma supports us on the whole," Dubinin said, but he added: "As the Duma did not form the government, not one of the factions takes responsibility for the work of the government. Therefore they think they can take such decisions."