Resolve 2010 budget debacle

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Resolve 2010 budget debacle

Less than two weeks are left in this year’s calendar. Yet the National Assembly is still trying to break out of a stalemate. The opposition Democratic Party occupied the conference room of the Budget and Accounts Committee almost a week ago. The committee has not even begun organizing a subpanel to adjust next year’s budget figures, let alone review the overall budget bill. Without the subpanel, review for next year’s government spending cannot take place.

Even if the panel forms, it’s unclear whether a review will proceed smoothly considering the rift between the ruling and opposition parties.

If the two parties fail to mend fences before the year ends, the government may have to depend on the ruling party to unilaterally pass a budget bill or the Lee administration will have to exercise its authority to implement provisional spending based on this year’s spending plan, something that’s never happened before in Korea’s constitutional history. Given the current impasse, there appears to be little chance the budget will be passed this year.

A provisional spending plan should be the last resort. If it’s employed, the government can only proceed with basic state operations. It will have to put off other spending for 2010. New projects such as pensions for the seriously handicapped and an expanded student loan program would have to be shelved. Legislators must work out a deal to enact next year’s spending on schedule.

The DP says that if it is happy with revised spending on the four rivers project, it will rubber-stamp the rest of budget in one night if it has to. But the thought of examining a 291.8 trillion won ($251 billion) budget in one night is preposterous.

The legislature has fought routinely over past budgets, but the only time it has failed to form a subpanel to revise spending figures so late in the year was in 1993. How does the legislature plan to scrutinize such a huge budget and make adjustments in such a short period of time?

The four rivers project takes up 6.7 trillion won of next year’s budget. Sacrificing the lion’s share of next year’s budget because of one project would be irresponsible. Political parties should negotiate contentious spending on four major waterways on the sidelines of an overall budget review. The four rivers project can be worked out in a political compromise.

The Grand National Party must not quit trying to negotiate with the opposition. Its leader proposed a three-way meeting with the opposition and the president. It must do its utmost to iron out differences no matter what, so the public will understand, at least to some extent, if the administration has to choose the last resort.
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