Opposition blindsided on record budget bill

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Opposition blindsided on record budget bill

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Lawmakers of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party stage a protest in front of the Assembly speaker’s podium in the main conference hall of the National Assembly Tuesday night, right after the ruling Democratic Party and its allies passed next year’s budget. [NEWS1]

After the ruling party and its allies passed the largest-ever budget bill Tuesday night, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) cried foul and vowed to fight more fiercely to block other contentious bills.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP), four opposition parties and independent lawmakers attended a plenary session Tuesday night and voted the budget bill through. The Moon Jae-in administration had asked for 513.5 trillion won ($430.14 billion) in spending, and the five parties revised the amount to 512.3 trillion won, 42.7 trillion won or 9 percent higher than this year’s budget.

Lawmakers from the DP, Bareunmirae Party, Justice Party, Party for Democracy and Peace and a new splinter party from the Party for Democracy and Peace participated in the voting as well as independent lawmakers. Of the 162 lawmakers who voted, 156 supported it, three opposed and three abstained.

While the voting took place, LKP lawmakers raised their voices to yell at their rivals but were unable to stop it. “They are a group of thieves who robbed the budget,” said Rep. Kim Jae-won, chief policymaker of the LKP.

It was the first time since 2014 that an appropriation bill was passed without a consensus between the two largest parties.

In 2014, the National Assembly Act was revised to introduce a clause that a voting session will automatically be arranged on the government spending plan on Dec. 1 every year, if the parties fail to do so beforehand.

That deadline was missed for the fifth year in a row amid a parliamentary deadlock and the LKP’s threat to filibuster nearly 200 bills. The deadlock was partially resolved earlier this week.

On Tuesday night, at the request of the DP and four opposition parties, a voting session was opened Tuesday at 8:38 p.m., hours before the final session of the 20th National Assembly ended at midnight. LKP lawmakers surrounded National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang throughout the session and complained in loud voices.

It took only 28 minutes for the bill to be introduced and passed. Around 9:06 p.m., the bill, supported by 156 lawmakers including DP Floor Leader Rep. Lee In-young, was passed.

Rep. Shim Jae-cheol, floor leader of the LKP, cried foul. “We were having a final negotiation,” Shim complained. “As the talks were deadlocked, I briefly stepped out for fresh air. And they opened the voting session during that time.”

Shim said he asked Speaker Moon for at least an hour delay, but his request was rejected.

Moon notified lawmakers that a voting session would open at 8 p.m., and it actually started at 8:38 p.m. A budget bill sponsored by 108 LKP lawmakers was introduced but never voted on.

Then another appropriation bill sponsored by the DP and its allies was introduced, and Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki said the government had no objection. As the LKP lawmakers shouted “dictatorship,” other lawmakers passed the bill.

Shim complained to Speaker Moon about how he conducted the session, and Moon said, “I ask for your understanding.”

Another bill on a government plan to manage state-run funds such as the National Pension Fund was passed, and Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon expressed his appreciation to leaders of the ruling and opposition parties. At 9:14 p.m. Moon declared the session closed.

“This was a masterpiece of all possible illegal actions,” said Rep. Kim, the chief policymaker of the LKP who is also the chairman of the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts. “An appropriation bill that the committee chairman doesn’t even know the details of was passed today.”

About 60 lawmakers from the LKP staged an overnight sit-in outside the main chamber of the National Assembly. The LKP also held a meeting Wednesday morning to further criticize the DP. “The people will rage over the pork-barreling spending before the election,” LKP Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn said. “The people will judge the administration in the upcoming election.”

Hwang warned LKP lawmakers that the DP will act more treacherously to ram through other contentious bills, vowing to stop them “by risking my life.” The LKP also threatened to submit a motion to impeach Deputy Prime Minister Hong.

The DP said Wednesday that it was unfortunate it had to ram through the budget without the LKP’s backing. “It was an unavoidable choice to serve the people,” DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan said during a party leadership meeting in the morning.

Lee said the DP will concentrate its efforts on passing other bills, including a series of contentious reform plans. A bill to introduce a new proportional election system and bills to create a new investigation agency for senior public servants and weaken the prosecution’s investigative powers, currently pending for voting, are opposed by the LKP.

“We did our best to reach an agreement until the final moment, but the LKP continued to delay,” Rep. Lee In-young, the DP’s floor leader, said. “I apologize to the people that we failed to reach an agreement.”

He said the DP will introduce the contentious bills as well as other bills as soon as a plenary session opens. “The DP will steadily walk the road to reform the prosecution and election system and complete those missions speedily and effectively,” he said.

Lee said the door to talks with the LKP remains open.

The National Assembly began an extraordinary session starting Wednesday. Following the previous night’s confrontation, the ruling and opposition parties had a cooling off period. A plenary session scheduled to start at 2 p.m. was postponed, and the DP decided to continue its discussions with other opposition parties outside the National Assembly. “There is no need to provoke the LKP any further,” a key DP official said.

LKP lawmakers ended their sit-in later in the afternoon, but Shim told them to stay inside the National Assembly to counter a possible emergency. It remains to be seen if the LKP will filibuster pending bills if a plenary session opens. Last month, the LKP requested a filibuster for nearly 200 bills, and its request remains valid.

BY SER MYO-JA, HA JUN-HO [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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