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(2nd LD) Ruling party, gov't reach compromise on blanket coronavirus relief payouts

Politics 20:39 April 22, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in last 3 paras)

SEOUL, April 22 (Yonhap) -- The ruling party and government reached a compromise Wednesday to offer blanket payouts to all citizens in a proposed coronavirus relief package that includes a plan to encourage high-income earners to voluntarily return the payments later, a party official said.

The compromise capped a days-long debate among key Democratic Party and government officials over whether to offer targeted support to those in need or handouts to all, with the finance ministry fretful over the potential impact on the health of state finances.

It remains uncertain whether the opposition parties will fully back the relief scheme, as some conservatives have opposed across-the-board payouts that could chip away at state coffers.

"Under the principles of emergency and universality, (the ruling camp) will seek to provide emergency disaster relief funds to all citizens and draft a plan to reduce the financial burden through such efforts as the voluntary contribution of the payouts by social leaders and high income earners," Cho Jeong-sik, the ruling party's policy chief, told reporters.

Cho Jeong-sik, the policy chief of the ruling Democratic Party, speaks during a briefing at the National Assembly in Seoul on April 22, 2020. (Yonhap)

Government officials appeared ready to proceed with the compromised relief scheme as long as the opposition parties give it the green light.

"If the ruling and opposition parties reach an agreement over the proposal that enables high earners to voluntarily contribute their payouts, the government would accept that," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a press release.

The finance ministry refused to comment, apparently showing a cautious stance over blanket payouts. It had advocated the idea of providing relief funds only to households whose income falls in the lower 70 percent bracket.

The main opposition United Future Party (UFP) criticized the proposed relief scheme as "lacking specifics" and demanded that the ruling party quickly provide a modified version of its budget proposal.

Lee In-young, the ruling party whip, hit back, accusing the UFP of "stalling."

"As the ruling party and government have started converging on this idea, the UFP now demands the revised budget proposal," Lee told reporters. "Wouldn't people see it as an act of stalling for time?"

Lee added that he would contact the UFP floor leadership to find out about "their intentions."

Chung played a key role in coordinating the compromise between the government and ruling party, officials said.

The premier explained the compromise to Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, who then accepted it, an aide to Chung told Yonhap News Agency. It also followed coordination with the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

The compromise came amid concerns that any discord between the ruling party and government over the relief issue would look bad particularly after the UFP warmed to the government's initial plan to dole out targeted relief funds.

Meanwhile, the budget policy division of the National Assembly pointed out the need to supplement the government's payout plan to cover only those in the lower 70 percent income bracket.

In an analysis of the government's proposal for an extra budget, the division said that the plan needs improvement in terms of "fairness," while voicing concerns that the scheme targeting the specific income bracket could take more time and costs to administer, and even lead to public backlash.

It floated a set of suggestions, including blanket payouts and handouts based on the extent of pandemic-induced damage rather than on the income levels.

The cash payout, a hot-button issue in the run-up to last week's parliamentary elections, has pitted those favoring equal payments, in light of the state responsibility to protect all citizens, against those cautioning against populism and prioritizing the state's financial health.


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