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[News Focus] Democratic Party leader vows to speed up fourth extra budget plan

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Nak-yon said Wednesday his party will speed up discussions with the government for the nation’s fourth extra budget this year to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(We) will soon wrap up talks with the government and draw up a supplementary budget plan so we can get it executed as soon as possible,” Lee said at the party’s supreme council meeting Wednesday morning.

“(We) must be able to ease the burden on the self-employed and workers.”

The ruling party is taking steps to offer a second round of emergency disaster relief to those more greatly affected by the pandemic before the Chuseok holidays begin on Sept. 30.

The Democratic Party is discussing a supplementary budget of up to 12 trillion won ($10.1 billion).

Lee said in a meeting with the main opposition United Future Party’s interim leader Kim Chong-in that he thinks a fourth extra budget was “unavoidable.”

In a TBS radio interview, Lee said that providing “more help more quickly to those in greater pain,” would serve the purpose of the emergency disaster relief system, and that the government and the Democratic Party must come to a conclusion by early next week.

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said the fourth supplementary budget plan was “under internal review,” and that the government will soon reach a conclusion.

The Democratic Party’s leadership including Lee had previously been cautious about a fourth extra budget, but they have reached a consensus on the need for more government spending to alleviate the pandemic’s impact on the real economy.

As the second supplementary budget, which was for the first round of disaster relief payouts, amounted to about 12 trillion won, the next extra budget is likely to be of a similar size.

Regarding who should receive the relief money, selective payments to those who are more vulnerable is gaining weight within the Democratic Party.

Some candidates for Democratic Party leadership in the national convention such as Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung had called for a universal payout of the relief money to all Koreans, but such calls have not been made since Lee got elected.

A member of the Democratic Party’s supreme council told Yonhap News Agency that they could consider offering 100,000 won to every Korean, and giving more to those who are more vulnerable.

At the council meeting Wednesday, Lee called for wider participation in the social distancing campaign as the nation has been seeing hikes in the number of confirmed cases in the past two weeks.

“(I) thank the Koreans participating in (social) distancing,” he said, adding that his heart lies with the people who are suffering due to COVID-19 and the distancing rules.

“We hear that the effect of (social) distancing efforts has started to kick in, but it is too early to feel relieved. We must endure and bear with it until the coronavirus (pandemic) subsides more.”

Lee himself was freed Saturday from two weeks of self-isolation as he was categorized as a close contact of a confirmed case who had sat in a radio studio just before Lee.

Regarding an ongoing strike by medical doctors, Lee said that patients are waiting for the doctors to return.

“With the National Assembly’s right and responsibility, we will sincerely do our best to resolve the situation,” he said.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)​
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