Lawmakers promise concord on budget for 2013

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Lawmakers promise concord on budget for 2013

In the middle of the stubborn standoff over the ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the ruling and opposition parties yesterday began deliberations on next year’s budget bill with a rare promise of bipartisan cooperation to approve it in time.

The adjustment subcommittee yesterday began to review budget proposals submitted by 15 standing committees. The 12-member subcommittee, comprised of seven Grand Nationals, four Democrats and one representative from the Liberty Forward Party, will fine-tune next year’s budget proposal of 326.1 trillion won ($286 billion).

Major pledges by the ruling and opposition parties and lawmakers’ proposals for projects in their districts will be considered this week. The fine-tuning will end on Nov. 29 and the special committee will vote on the budget bill the following day. The floor passage of the budget bill is scheduled for Dec. 2.

Before the deliberations began, representatives of the ruling GNP and the main opposition parties met to discuss the time line. After the meeting, they held a press conference and vowed to cooperate to pass the next year’s budget before the statutory deadline of Dec. 2.

“We will do our best to meet the deadline through bipartisan cooperation,” said Representative Jeong Kab-yoon of the GNP, who also heads the special committee.

DP Representative Kang Gi-jung reiterated lawmakers’ pledge of bipartisan cooperation, even as the two sides standoff over the free trade agreement with the U.S. “No matter what happens, we will separate the budget bill from the FTA,” Kang told Yonhap News Agency.

DP spokesman Hong Young-pyo said the passing of the budget should be the National Assembly’s priority, urging the ruling party to delay the FTA ratification until after the budget is passed.

During yesterday’s deliberation, lawmakers disagreed over what parts of the budget should be cut. The DP demanded the PR budget for the Lee Myung-bak administration’s projects be cut, along with money earmarked for “special activities accounts” of law enforcement authorities. The GNP argued they should stay in the budget.

Ahead of the legislative and presidential elections next year, both sides want to cut the budgets of controversial state projects while allocating more money to welfare programs.

Both the GNP and DP deployed heavy hitters on the adjustment subcommittee. Of the seven Grand Nationals, five are loyalists of presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye. “It was to lay groundwork for Park’s campaign next year,” said a GNP official. Park’s key aide, Representative Lee Jung-hyun, returned to the subcommittee after three years. The DP deployed lawmakers with strong ties to Jeolla and Gwangju with the goal of securing as much budget money as possible for those two party strongholds.

A series of construction projects linked to the four-rivers restoration project and subsidies for university tuitions are expected to bring about disputes between the ruling and opposition parties. The four-rivers project has prompted deadlocks in budget deliberations every year since 2008.

The 15 standing committees that reviewed the budget proposals added nearly 11.5 trillion won to the government proposal.

By Ser Myo-ja []
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