Budget deliberations in second day

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Budget deliberations in second day

The National Assembly yesterday entered into its second day of deliberations over next year’s budget proposals.

Right now the prospect of completing the review process by Dec. 16 appears bleak, largely because the ruling and opposition parties have failed to reach agreements on a number of unrelated and highly controversial issues.

The main opposition Democratic Party continued its attack against President Park Geun-hye and the ruling Saenuri Party for what they called an “extremely high level” of alert against those sympathetic to North Korea.

The party specifically referenced the prosecution’s launch of an investigation Tuesday into Rev. Park Chang-sin, a left-wing Catholic priest, who is suspected of violating the National Security Law.

Father Park, in his sermon during an “emergency Mass” on Friday in Gunsan, North Jeolla, defended North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010. The senior priest, a member of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, also denied the outcome of last year’s presidential election - arguing that it was illegal and calling for the resignation of the president.

“If government agencies had not meddled with the presidential campaign last year in the first place, neither the opposition nor men of religion would need to speak up,” said Jun Byung-hun, a Democratic Party floor leader.

The Saenuri Party - which previously criticized the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice for causing “division and confusion” - attempted to engage the opposition party.

“We have a lot of political issues now, but they are supposed to be resolved through conversation,” Representative Choi Kyung-hwan, the Saenuri Party floor leader, said in a meeting yesterday morning with the party’s senior members.

“But budget bills directly linked to the livelihoods of the people should be separate. The National Assembly should not put a strain on the economy,” he added.

Under the Constitution, the government submits the budget plan to the National Assembly by Oct. 2 ? 90 days before the beginning of the new fiscal year. The Assembly, then, must vote on the bills by Dec. 2 - 30 days prior to the new fiscal year.

However, with the Dec. 2 deadline already only five days away, lawmakers set a new deadline for Dec. 16, hoping to avoid the worst-case scenario of preparing a provisional budget. Such an event - observed in the United States in October when the Federal government headed into its first partial shutdown in 17 years - is unprecedented in Korea.

A provisional budget is set around the boundaries of the previous year’s budget, with the goal of minimizing its size. If that were to happen, up to 40 percent of the budget planned for next year is expected to be trimmed, according to the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.

The last time the Assembly met the Dec. 2 deadline was in 2003. In the majority of cases over the past 10 years, the opposing parties have continued operating in a political stalemate, waiting until the last day of the year to approve the budget bills.

Last time, the bills passed the plenary session at dawn on Jan. 1, 2013.

Meanwhile, Representative Choi argued that Assembly Speaker Kang Chang-hee should table the motion for the appointment of Hwang Chan-hyon to lead the Board of Audit and Inspection. “We cannot avoid the public’s condemnation for the lengthy vacancy of the Board of Audit chairman post now,” he said.

“We, as the responsible ruling party, can no longer wait,” he added, urging the Democrats to join in the appointment process.

He also asked Speaker Kang to make up his mind ahead of the plenary session slated for today.

Earlier, when the regular session of the National Assembly concluded, the two parties agreed to pass the budget bills and the motion for the Board of Audit appointment on Nov. 15, but the plan has been delayed by more than 10 days, the floor leader added.

The DP has long opposed the appointment, calling Hwang an inappropriate candidate.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]
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