Budget bills’ passage down to wire

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Budget bills’ passage down to wire

The chance of the National Assembly passing budget bills for 2014 by the end of the year appears slim, especially given that the ruling and opposition parties have had a particularly hard time narrowing differences on the budgets devised by President Park Geun-hye.

Only two plenary meetings of the extraordinary National Assembly session are left for the year on Dec. 26 and Dec. 30, and it is highly likely that lawmakers will repeat the same mistake as last year, passing the bills at dawn on Jan. 1 - an unprecedented event in Korea’s constitutional history.

The list of budget bills being withheld, which the JoongAng Ilbo acquired on Sunday, shows that the budgets that the main and opposition parties have yet to agree upon amounts to 16.6 trillion won ($15.7 billion) - 4.6 percent of the entire budget proposal.

Generally when bills are tabled, it indicates that lawmakers intend to deliberate on them after dealing with what they consider more important.

Notable is that the majority of the budgets being deferred are those that came from President Park. One such bill includes allocating 5.3 billion won to the Saemaeul (New Community) Movement, a rural program that the administration of former President Park Chung Hee pushed ahead to spur rapid growth in the 1970s.

About 3 billion won of the Saemaeul budget will be earmarked for “globalizing” the movement, or spreading it to underdeveloped nations.

President Park has tried to rekindle the nationwide movement initially conceptualized by her father, though many critics have dismissed it as merely a throwback to the 1970s and lacking tangible substance.

The ruling Saenuri Party’s vice floor leader, Yoon Sang-hyun, claimed the Saemaeul Movement budget is part of official development assistance (ODA).

“The Saemaeul budget is essential for Korea’s international status and national benefit,” he said. “In no previous administration has the Assembly refused to pass bills on budgets for presidential pledge-related businesses.”

Kim Gi-hyeon, chairman of Saenuri’s policy committee, claimed the Democrats were raising objections to any bill that included the words “Saemaeul” or “creativity.”

“The DP is displaying this hypocritical attitude, urging the president to carry out her campaign promises while staging activities to hinder it,” Kim said.

But Chang Byoung-wan, the Democratic Party’s policy committee chairman, contended that most of the bills were groundless. “Why would you double-assign the budget for Saemaeul, when we already have a budget for underdeveloped countries?” he said.

Even over the amendment of bills meant to spur foreign investment, the Saenuri argues they are meant to revitalize the economy, whereas the Democrats say the bills will only contribute to benefiting the chaebol, or conglomerates.

“With the June local election in mind, the ruling and opposition parties may pass bills, including those for budgets, en masse by the year-end - to avoid denouncement from the public,” said one lawmaker who is member of the Assembly’s Special Committee on Budget and Accounts.

“The ruling and opposition parties have not been discussing or compromising on budgets; they have been waging an exhaustive fight over the past year on the National Intelligence Service’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election,” said Lim Seong-ho, a professor of political science and international relations diplomacy at Kyung Hee University. “They are just putting aside those bills that have the potential to become controversial now that they need to hurry up.”

BY KIM KYUNG-JIN, SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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