A welfare reality check

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A welfare reality check

A heated debate over financing for welfare benefits has reignited within the legislature, while President Park Geun-hye remains steadfast to her campaign promise to increase social welfare without burdening the public with higher taxes.

Yoo Seong-min, the newly elected floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, floated the idea of raising corporate taxes for across-the-board burden-sharing for welfare programs. And Woo Yoon-keun, floor leader for the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, said his party would agree to selective welfare benefits with the exception of the current universal free child care program and the free school lunch program.

Economic experts also joined in the debate, offering different solutions for financing new and existing social welfare plans. Some suspect the ruling party could agree to higher corporate taxes to gain support from the opposition to make costly universal welfare programs selective in structure.

But a sensible reexamination of the welfare system and solutions for reasonable and sustainable funding cannot be sought out through sporadic discussions and emotional exchanges. The welfare system and taxation that directly affects the public should not be approached with a political perspective. And they must certainly not be subject to political bargaining. Welfare and tax issues concern future generations as well and must be addressed as serious national agenda items.

Since the issue is on the table, the ruling and opposition parties should set aside their differences and talk seriously. They could form a kind of bipartisan consultative body to discuss the issue in a farsighted context and be open to all possibilities.

The ruling party should scrap its position that a tax increase is out of the question, while the opposition should also backpedal from its stance that child care and school meals must be a free-for-all. Only when lawmakers examine the issues from scratch, will they be able to come up with a sustainable welfare program and a way to finance it - prioritizing what welfare benefits should go to whom.

The public will be able to better understand and go along with those plans when they see how careful the legislature has studied the problem. President Park should also step back from her adherence to welfare without a tax hike. This stubborn and wishful stance won’t help lawmakers come up with a reasonable plan. Until she, the legislature and the people agree that a tax increase may be inevitable to achieve a better social welfare system, a realistic solution remains out of reach.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 7, Page 30
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