Assembly inches toward budget deal amid hurdles

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Assembly inches toward budget deal amid hurdles

The ruling and opposition parties agreed on Wednesday to pass a 386.5 trillion won ($332 billion) central government budget, slashing 300 billion won from the Park Geun-hye administration’s initial proposal.

The ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) cut 3.8 trillion won from the government proposal, while adding 3.5 trillion won for various regional projects and a drought prevention program. In total, lawmakers cut 300 billion won from the government’s initial request.

The two sides also reached a compromise on the opposition party’s demand that the central government’s budget should be used for the free child care program for 3- to 5-year-olds. As of now, local governments were to pay for the program, which prompted an outpouring of complaints about the financial burden.

Based on the compromise, the government will use its budget of 300 billion won earmarked for facility maintenance to support the child care program.

Still, the ruling and opposition parties struggled throughout Wednesday to follow through with their deal to approve next year’s budget and a series of economic bills.

The two parties struck a deal on a legislative timetable in an overnight negotiation that started Tuesday and ended early Wednesday. However, they faced a hurdle when the leader of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee refused to cooperate with the plan, calling it an attempt to bypass the law governing the National Assembly.

That delayed the voting session, originally scheduled for 2 p.m., back to 7 p.m. and then to 8 p.m. As of 9 p.m., no vote had taken place.

Chief policy makers, floor leaders and deputy floor leaders of the ruling and opposition parties started negotiations around 9 p.m. on Tuesday and struck a deal around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, agreeing that the 2016 budget for the central government would be passed during Wednesday’s vote.

They also agreed that five bills, including a bill to promote tourism and a bill to support Korea’s medical business in the global market, would be approved.

They agreed that the two parties would also pass other economic bills, including a basic act for service industry development, before the end of the regular session. The counterterrorism bill and the North Korea human rights bill will also be passed during this session, the two sides agreed.

The current session is the last regular session of the 19th National Assembly and will end on Monday.

The two sides also agreed that they would immediately start discussing the bills concerning the Park administration’s initiative to reorganize the labor market as soon as possible and hold an extra session to vote on it.

However, NPAD Rep. Lee Sang-min, head of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, barked at the backroom deal and demanded more time for his committee to examine the bills before hurrying them to the voting session.

In an urgent press conference Wednesday morning, Lee said the two parties violated the National Assembly Act by agreeing to skip necessary legislative processes to pass the five bills at the Wednesday session. “As the head of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, I cannot accept this,” he said.

Article 59 of the National Assembly Act said a bill will need to stay at the Legislation and Judiciary Committee for five days for consideration before a vote and moving on to the main session.

“Because the regular session ends next Monday, the bills can be voted on that day when respective committees each review and vote on them, and send them to the Legislation and Judiciary Committee in time,” Lee said.

“My committee won’t participate in the illegal handling of the bills just because the ruling and opposition parties abruptly agreed to vote on them at the main session on Wednesday.”

He also condemned the two parties’ late-night negotiations.

“They linked bills that are completely irrelevant to the budget bill,” he said. “Unrelated bills were bundled up in packages in the negotiations. This is a practice we must stop.”

National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa summoned the two parties’ floor leaders in the afternoon to resolve the deadlock.

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