Saenuri pushes basic pension passage this week

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Saenuri pushes basic pension passage this week

With only two days left before the National Assembly ends its regular session, the ruling Saenuri Party yesterday urged the opposition Democratic Party to accept the government’s revised basic pension scheme so the bill could be passed at a plenary session tomorrow.

It warned that the DP would face a strong public backlash if it rejects the bill and delays bigger welfare payments to senior citizens.

“If we don’t reach an agreement on the basic plan today, it will be practically impossible to put the basic pension bill for a vote at a plenary session Thursday,” said Choi Kyung-hwan, floor leader of the Saenuri, during a party leadership meeting yesterday at the National Assembly.

Choi said the government would not able to provide the higher pension to seniors aged 65 and older on schedule in July if the DP doesn’t back the bill.

“In order for the government to implement the basic pension program, the bill must be passed at a plenary session [Thursday],” said the three-term lawmaker, adding that he will do his best to strike a deal with the 127-member opposition.

Promising an increase in the basic pension for the silver generation was one of the key pledges by both Park Geun-hye and rival Moon Jae-in of the DP in the 2012 presidential campaign, reflecting the importance of the older vote and also the relatively modest level of welfare given to them.

During the campaign, the Saenuri promised to provide all seniors aged 65 and older with a 200,000 won ($186) monthly allowance as a basic pension regardless of income.

But under budgetary pressure, the Park administration backtracked on the promise last September and reduced the benefits. Instead of giving all seniors 200,000 won a month, the government announced it would only provide monthly allowances of 100,000 to 200,000 won to people in the bottom 70 percent income bracket. The plan was supposed to start this coming July.

Seniors who are not qualified for benefits from the National Pension Service, or those who have paid into their NPS accounts for 11 years or less, will receive the full 200,000 won a month. But people who have paid into their accounts for more than 11 years will get less since the NPS will also be giving them benefits. For each additional year of contributions to an NPS account, the basic monthly pension will be reduced by about 10,000 won. Those seniors will receive at least 100,000 won a month.

The opposition opposes linking the basic pension plan to the NPS benefits. They argue that young people may opt out of paying into the NPS if they think it will whittle away other welfare benefits in the future.

The DP wants the basic pension plan to give all seniors in the bottom 80 percent income bracket 200,000 won a month.

The opposition argues that the government’s bill will encourage people to abandon their NPS contributions.

The DP said it is open to holding another plenary session next month if a compromise can’t be reached this week. The ruling party rejected that offer and called it “abject irresponsibility.”

“The government and the ruling party have been staging a public relations campaign by threatening the DP that seniors will not receive the pension benefits if the bill does not pass the Assembly this month,” said Representative Chyung Ho-joon, spokesperson of the DP, during a briefing at the National Assembly yesterday.

Chyung called the ruling party’s claim a blatant attempt to mislead the public.

“Even with the existing budgets and law, all seniors in the bottom 70 percent income bracket can be paid 200,000 won a month in the coming days,” he said. “I urge the governing party to stop manipulating the public.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]



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