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Budget bill to be 1st test of `new politics`

Posted December. 26, 2012 03:13,   


The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic United Party originally agreed to approve next year’s state budget by Nov. 22 in light of the presidential election. This was meant to prevent the budget plan from affecting the election result, but the agreement was not kept. The two parties failed to deliberate on the budget bill by Dec. 2, the deadline for budget approval under the Constitution, or Dec. 9, the final day of the regular parliamentary session. Both parties are responsible, but if one main culprit is to be picked for the fiasco, the Democratic United Party is more responsible at fault for being passive in the bill`s review with the intent to adjusting the budget plan after winning the election. The party even demanded that the National Assembly set aside extra budget of 3 trillion (2.79 billion U.S. dollars) to 4 trillion won (3.73 billion dollars) in a separate account for the next president to use toward his or her agenda. The ruling party opposed this plan at that time.

Now, however, Saenuri is claiming the need to add 6 trillion won (5.59 billion dollars) to the budget for President-elect Park Geun-hye to deliver priority election pledges. The ruling party said the new administration will need 1.7 trillion won (1.58 billion dollars) to implement pledges on welfare, including free childcare, and 4.3 trillion won (4.01 billion dollars) to assist small and medium businesses and the self-employed and galvanize the real estate market. The ruling party wants more budget even through the issuance of government bonds, whereas the Democratic United Party is seeking to put the brakes on more spending, saying, “We cannot accept a measure to set up a budget based on debts.” The positions of the two parties have effectively been switched after the election, as the ruling party previously stressed fiscal soundness and its rival urged “the president-elect’s budget.”

If President-elect Park is to implement welfare and other policies that she promised in the April 11 general elections and the presidential election, her administration will need a combined 131 trillion won (121 billion dollars) over her five-year term. The government would then have to use more than 26 trillion won (24.2 billion dollars) each year. According to Park, her administration will raise the necessary funds by improving the tax benefit system and conducting budgetary reform through significant cuts in unessential budget items. Keeping election pledges is important, but not at the cost of giving up fiscal soundness. The ruling party should first examine if any budget items benefit certain interest groups or if pork-barrel items exist in the proposed budget, and cut items that can be reduced. The main opposition party must cooperate in budgetary review to avoid misunderstanding that it seeks to boycott the ruling party under a political plot of retaliation for its loss in the presidential election.

The ruling and opposition parties have constantly continued a “war” over next year’s budget every December. If it happens this year, Korea might face the first year of Park`s term filled with bipartisan political strife. During the presidential campaign period, the ruling and main opposition parties solemnly pledged new politics, co-existence and prosperity. For the parties to keep their agreement to approve next year`s budget by Friday is a barometer of new politics. They should approve the 2013 budget via consensus by year’s end before the new administration is inaugurated in the New Year.