The Korea Herald


Tensions flare in National Assembly over 2024 budget, bills

Rival parties to hold extra plenary meetings on budget plan from Monday

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Dec. 10, 2023 - 15:05

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Lawmakers at the National Assembly (Yonhap) Lawmakers at the National Assembly (Yonhap)

The rival parties are expected to engage in an intensified tug-of-war starting Monday, as they failed to come to a consensus on the passage of the 2024 government budget and pending bills.

The ruling People Power Party and the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea on Thursday agreed to kick off an extraordinary session on Monday, which will include two plenary meetings scheduled on Dec. 20 and 28, respectively.

The Dec. 20 meeting will address next year’s budget plan, which parliament had failed to handle by the Dec. 2 legal deadline, according to lawmakers.

The rival parties have been engaged in a blame game for failing to get on the same page regarding details of the budget plan.

The Democratic Party has been pushing to allocate more of the budget to certain projects, including additional cash subsidies, through its revision plan. Meanwhile, the ruling party has been criticizing the main opposition’s requests as “populist proposals.”

“The projects mentioned by the Democratic Party that are in need of budget allocation are either (populist plans pushed by) Democratic Party leader Rep. Lee Jae-myung or meaningless cash subsidies,” People Power Party Rep. Song Eon-seog, who is a member of the National Assembly Special Committee on Budget and Accounts, told reporters on Friday.

Song’s remarks echo Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Choo Kyung-ho’s criticism of the main opposition party’s attempts to cut back the budget on the administration’s key projects, while boosting their own initiatives.

“We cannot accept any part of the budget plan that was increased (without solid reasoning),” Choo told reporters on Thursday, pointing to the Democratic Party’s proposals.

“The government maintains the stance that we cannot accept the main opposition party’s efforts to excessively cut back on the budgets on our key projects, while there are plans pushed by them for the purpose of merely distributing cash and winning over the public,” he added.

The Democratic Party shot back by saying that the ruling party has been dragging its feet with the passage of the budget and "holding everyone back."

“If we fail to reach an agreement, we have no choice, but to unilaterally pass our own revised budget plan,” Democratic Party Rep. Lee said Friday. The Democratic Party holds a controlling majority in the 298-member Assembly with 169 seats.

Last month, the National Assembly started assessing the 2024 budget announced by the Ministry of Economy and Finance in August, which calls for a 2.8 percent on-year increase in government spending to 656.9 trillion won ($497.6 billion). The 2.8 percent gain marks the smallest annual increase for the government budget after the country remodeled its budgetary statistics to align with international standards.

The Cabinet and the ruling party have cited government debt that has exceeded 1,000 trillion won in recent years which could put sovereign credit ratings under pressure and increase the debt burden for future generations, behind its fiscal tightening.

The Dec. 28 meeting will likely discuss bills that push for two special investigations including the Deutsche Motors stock manipulation allegations against first lady Kim Keon Hee, alongside bribery suspicions surrounding a development project in the Daejang-dong district in Seongnam, south of Seoul. The two were designated as "fast-track bills," which prevents a proposal from pending at parliament for too long.

The Democratic Party will also propose a parliamentary investigation into three controversial issues, including a near-decade old expressway construction project which was entirely scrapped earlier this year after suspicions arose that its recently updated plans were designed to benefit the current first lady's family. The updated plans had readjusted the final segment of the highway near strips of land owned by Lee's family, local reports said.

The other two cover the death of a young marine who was swept away by strong currents during a flood rescue operation in July and the flooding of an underpass in Osong, North Chungcheong Province, which claimed 13 lives in the same month.