Parties struggle to move budget bill after deadline

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Dec 3, 2017 - 18:11
  • Updated : Dec 3, 2017 - 18:11

The deadline for parliamentary approval of the budget bill has passed, but rival parties’ top negotiators on Sunday failed to narrow gaps over next year’s spending plan, as they continued to clash over the government’s scheme to employ more public workers.

Legislative members of the Special Committee on Budget met with officials from the Ministry of Finance and Strategy to discuss the government’s 429 trillion won ($395 billion) budget for 2018. Attending the meeting were lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and opposition Liberty Korea Party and People’s Party.

Without a detailed action plan, they only managed to agree on meeting again Monday when a plenary session is scheduled with the hope of a vote to take place on the delayed bill. The three parties’ floor leaders are slated to meet around 10:30 a.m. 

“It will be our last chance for reaching an agreement,” Rep. Kim Gwang-lim of Liberty Korea Party, a member of the parliamentary budget committee, told reporters Sunday. “We apologize for failing to pass the bill by the deadline.” 

Rep. Kim Do-eup of opposition Liberty Korea Party holds a press conference Sunday to discuss annual budget bill. Yonhap

The lawmakers failed to approve the bill within the legal deadline Saturday, marking the first time lawmakers had failed to do so since 2014. Without a breakthrough Monday, the budget bill will end up in limbo until next week. The National Assembly’s regular session ends Saturday.

The most contentious point came down to the government’s scheme to hire more public workers next year, Rep. Kim said. According to the budget bill, 530 billion won is allocated for hiring some 12,000 public workers next year as part of a plan to create 174,000 new public service jobs by 2022.

While the Democratic Party asserted the bill is crucial to supporting the Moon administration’s initiative of job creation, the opposition conservative Liberty Korea Party and centrist People’s Party countered that the plan would only increase the financial burden on future generations.

“Opposition parties should acknowledge the new government’s principle and direction. When they don’t, a clash is inevitable,” said the Democratic Party’s Floor Leader Rep. Woo Won-shik. “The Moon administration’s first budget centers on the people. We won’t back down from our position.”

During the negotiations, the Liberty Korea Party and People’s Party sought to curtail the number of newly hired public workers to 7,000 and 9,000, respectively. But the Democratic Party insisted it could only scale back to 10,500.

Another major sticking point was the 3 trillion won worth of budget allocated for ensuring job security of workers who may face dismissals due to next year’s minimum wage increase. The opposition parties demanded it be applied for only one year. But the government and ruling party rejected it.

If the legislative impasse continues through the end of this year, the government would be forced to devise a provisional budget to be used only for mandatory expenditures. The ruling party can’t pass the bill unilaterally, as it has only 121 parliamentary seats, far short of a majority in the 299-member legislature.

“There is no agreement if the ruling party continues to stick with its position of hiring 10,500 people,” said Chung Woo-taik, floor leader of the Liberty Korea Party. “We can’t accept its proposal because it is based on inaccurate statistics and false logic.”

The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying they should exercise the “spirit of cooperation.” Presidential officials are scheduled to pay a visit the parliament and meet with the parties’ leadership Monday.