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South Korea Lawmakers Hold Budget Talks Before Deadline Tonight

South Korean lawmakers are holding talks in Seoul ahead of tonight’s deadline to approve the 2013 budget, which may include an increase in welfare spending.

Budget committee lawmakers will convene a meeting at 12 p.m. to reach a deal on the final numbers, which will be presented to parliament this afternoon, according to Finance Ministry spokesman Park Chun Sup.

“The budget is expected to be passed tonight,” Park said by telephone from the ministry in Sejong today. “At the heart of the talks is the spending on welfare programs. This is taking up a lot of time, and we’re likely to see some increase.”

Incoming President Park Geun Hye has pledged to spend 131.4 trillion won ($123 billion) on welfare programs including free childcare and support for the indebted poor over the next five years. The Finance Ministry on Sept. 25 proposed a 5.3 percent budget increase for next year and the smallest deficit in six years.

The budget process has been especially slow this year because of the Dec. 19 election, said Kang Hyun Gu, a Seoul-based economist at Hyundai Securities Co. A failure to meet today’s deadline would temporarily limit the government’s spending to this year’s level.

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