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(LEAD) Rival parties make last-ditch effort to compromise over 2018 budget bill

All News 10:35 December 02, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 10-14)

SEOUL, Dec. 2 (Yonhap) -- Rival parties on Saturday engaged in last-minute negotiations over the government's spending plan for next year with the legal deadline for the budget approval approaching.

The floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party, main opposition Liberty Korea Party and People's Party sought a breakthrough over the budget plan worth 429 trillion won (US$395 billion) under a deal to finish their negotiations by Saturday noon.

The constitutional deadline for the budget passage is Saturday.

The National Assembly is set to hold a plenary session in the afternoon to possibly vote on the budget bill, which is vital to bankroll President Moon Jae-in's priority policies to create jobs, enhance public welfare and prop up economic growth.

Last night, the rival parties scrambled to craft a compromise over several sticking points such as proposed outlays for creating public service jobs, but their talks ended with no breakthrough.

Through days of negotiations, some progress has been made on disputed proposals such as those involving the inter-Korean cooperation funds, health insurance and basic pension schemes.

Major bones of contention are a proposal to use 534.9 billion won to support Moon's push to create 174,000 new public service jobs by 2022 and the 3 trillion won plan to bankroll next year's minimum wage increase.

The minor opposition People's Party vehemently opposes the job growth plan, warning it would impose an undue burden on future generations.

The passage of the budget plan requires the cooperation of the People's Party, which has 40 lawmakers, as the ruling party has only 121 parliamentary seats, far short of a majority in the 299-member unicameral legislature.

Voicing frustration at the political impasse, Woo Won-shik, the ruling party's whip, stressed that the "essense of the budget plan" should not be damaged during the negotiations.

"I believe the parties must meet the legal deadline (for the budget passage) in a way that does not undermine the essense of the spending plan," Woo told reporters.

Asked if his party would press ahead with a vote on the bill should the negotiations fail, Woo remained skeptical.

"Then, the bill would be voted down. Why would we want to go through that unnecessary process?" he said.

Chung Woo-taik, the floor leader of the Liberty Korea Party, called for the ruling party to exert "flexibility" in the negotiations.

If the parties fail to meet the Saturday deadline with negotiations prolonged beyond the Jan. 1 start of the fiscal year the government would have to devise a provisional budget that can be used only for mandatory expenditures as stipulated by law.

This photo, taken on Dec. 1, 2017, shows top officials from the three major parties holding talks to narrow differences over the government's 2018 budget plan at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)


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