Lawmakers finally break through impasse

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Lawmakers finally break through impasse

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Lee Chan-yeol, chairman of the budget subcommittee under the Security and Public Administration Committee, opens deliberations on the budget bills yesterday in the National Assembly. Leaders of both parties ironed out an agreement Tuesday night to normalize the schedule of the legislature. [NEWS1]

The National Assembly yesterday resumed its review of the budget proposal for next year, following a dramatic breakthrough in party talks. Leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party and the opposition Democratic Party met Tuesday night and agreed to end the impasse at the Assembly’s regular session, and to continue with normal proceedings for the remainder of the period, which is scheduled to wrap up next week.

The Special Committee on Budget and Accounts yesterday agreed to pass the budget bills for next year and finish reviewing other economy-related bills as soon as possible. Lawmakers already missed the legal deadline of Dec. 2, and now have until Dec. 16 to complete the process.

This marks the 11th straight year the National Assembly has violated the Constitution, which stipulates that the next year’s budget proposal must be passed by Dec. 2 - or 30 days before the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Headway at the Assembly was only made possible after four lawmakers - the chairmen and floor leaders from each party - agreed to establish a special committee aimed at reforming the National Intelligence Service.

Under the agreement, the committee would seek to strengthen the neutrality and transparency of the NIS, and would consist of the same number of lawmakers from each party, with the panel being chaired by an opposition lawmaker. Further details will be unveiled today.

The Democrats have persistently demanded that the Park Geun-hye administration and the Saenuri Party allow for an overhaul of the top spy agency, and let the prosecution launch a special counsel investigation into the NIS, which is accused of conducting an online smear campaign disparaging opposition candidate Moon Jae-in ahead of last year’s presidential election.

The Saenuri Party has only consented to the former demand, but the agreement laid out Tuesday night states that both parties will “continue discussing when to hold the special investigation, and the scope of the probe,” leaving room for further negotiations.

The interpretation of the agreement also appears to differ between both parties.

“We basically think the special investigation [into the NIS] should not happen,” Hong Moon-jong, the Saenuri Party’s secretary general, said yesterday during a radio show.

The probe could be a political burden for the Saenuri, with June’s local elections only six months away.

“A special probe is something that can be talked about after the prosecution’s investigation that is currently under way is finalized, and the trial is completed,” said another Saenuri lawmaker, who asked not to be named.

However, at a party meeting yesterday, Democratic Party Chairman Kim Han-gill said, “We have opted for the normalization of the National Assembly [in order to address matters related to the] difficult livelihoods of our citizens. … There is not the smallest change in the will of the party to fulfill the goal of realizing the [independent] probe.”


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

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