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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 27)

All News 06:59 November 27, 2020

Debate over relief funds
Bipartisanship needed to help virus-hit people

A debate is gaining momentum over the push for a new emergency relief package to help the coronavirus-battered people and businesses. The rival political parties feel the need for the package after the government tightened social distancing guidelines Tuesday to contain the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic.

At stake is how to raise the much-need emergency funds. First of all, the parties should narrow their differences over the issue to make sure that a third round of coronavirus-related relief funds will be available for the needy at the right time.

The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) has taken the initiative by proposing that 3.6 trillion won ($3.2 billion) should be set aside from the 2021 budget to help households as well as the self-employed and small businesses hardest hit by COVID-19. Its interim leader Kim Chong-in floated the idea of including the sum in next year's budget so that the relief funds can be given as early as January.

Rep. Lee Jong-ae, the PPP's policy committee chief, is also calling for a drastic cut in the government's 21.3 trillion won layouts for the Korean New Deal projects to raise the additional relief funds. His demand appears attractive because the proposed cut can obviate the need to increase the next year's mega-budget of 555.8 trillion won. But the problem is that the governing Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is against the cut.

In fact, the DPK had shown a lukewarm attitude toward the PPP's proposal for the inclusion of the emergency funds in the main budget. But, it has changed its position after Chairman Lee Nak-yon said Wednesday that his party had better discuss the matter with the PPP and other minor parties. DPK floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon said that he will consider accepting the proposal.

Now the parties should iron out their differences over whether they can roll back the New Deal projects or not. The DPK is against any cut because the projects are President Moon Jae-in's ambitious initiative for reinvigorating the economy and creating jobs by expanding the country's digital infrastructure and nurturing environment friendly businesses.

If the two parties continue to haggle over the issue, they run the risk of not passing the 2021 budget bill by the Dec. 2 deadline. They don't have enough time for negotiations. So they must hurry up to find a compromise if they really want to include the relief funds in the main budget. If they fail, the DPK and the government should push for an extra budget. In that case, the ruling party will also need to get support from the opposition.

The first relief package worth 14.3 trillion won was provided to all households between May and August. The second package of 7.8 trillion was given selectively, to the most vulnerable, in September. Now a third package will require additional taxpayers' money; and it will be inevitable to issue state bonds to foot the bill. The rival parties should first build a national consensus on this thorny issue and then work out measures to avoid hurting the nation's fiscal health.

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