The Korea Herald


Yoon doubles down on cutting national debt in 2024 budget speech

President, opposition leader agree to ‘put people first’ in 1st encounter since Yoon’s election victory

By Kim Arin

Published : Oct. 31, 2023 - 17:52

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President Yoon Suk Yeol (second from left) arrives at the National Assembly in Yeouido, central Seoul, on Tuesday for budget speech. (Yonhap) President Yoon Suk Yeol (second from left) arrives at the National Assembly in Yeouido, central Seoul, on Tuesday for budget speech. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol cited reducing the national debt and stabilizing prices as his top priorities in an address to the National Assembly on Tuesday.

“The approach our government is taking in managing our finances is to avoid passing on unaffordable debts to the country’s future generations,” the president said in a budget speech delivered before the members of the Assembly.

“A sound fiscal policy is crucial to stabilizing prices in the long run and protecting our economic security,” the president said, adding that the International Monetary Fund has appraised his administration’s take on balancing the budget as heading in the right direction.

Yoon stressed that a sound fiscal policy was “not just about cutting down on spending, but about using taxpayers’ money more efficiently and responsibly, with efforts to not let a single dime go wasted.” He said that the budget would primarily be spent on strengthening the country’s essential functions such as national defense, education, health care and social security for the vulnerable.

“Our budget has to go to the people who most need it -- the low-income and socially vulnerable who bear a heavier burden in times of economic hardships,” he said.

The government earlier set its budget for next year as some 656.9 trillion won, which is 2.8 percent up from this year’s budget -- the smallest increase since 2005. According to the Ministry of Economy of Finance, the plan is to “remove factors that contribute to wasteful spending” while at the same time “creating more jobs and expanding welfare for the vulnerable.”

In Tuesday’s speech, the president asked for the Assembly’s support in reforming the national pension, the funds for which experts warn are at risk of being depleted over the next three decades. He said his administration would “work closely with the Assembly to win bipartisan support” in carrying out a successful pension reform for the future generations.

Prior to his speech Yoon met briefly with Rep. Lee Jae-myung behind closed doors for the first time since taking office in May last year.

The Democratic Party of Korea, chaired by Lee, boycotted last year’s budget speech by the president, who had to speak to a half-empty Assembly.

The Democratic Party then staged a protest outside the Assembly main building where the president gave his speech, condemning the criminal investigations into the corruption allegations surrounding the opposition leader as a “political crackdown.”

In the meeting that lasted for about 20 minutes, the president and the opposition leader reportedly agreed to put aside partisan politics and focus on making everyday life better for South Koreans.

Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Lee said that he told Yoon that “in this difficult economy, major changes in budget spending are considered inevitable.” He said that he asked the president to “listen to the voices of the people.”

Also present at the meeting, which lasted for about 20 minutes, were the speaker of the Assembly Rep. Kim Jin-pyo and the leaders of the ruling People Power Party Reps. Kim Gi-hyeon and Yun Jae-ok. Outside the Assembly and the Cabinet, the chiefs of the national election service and top courts were at the meeting.