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Thursday, March 3, 2011

EDITORIAL

Budget hurdles ahead

The Democratic Party of Japan and its junior coalition partner People's New Party managed to pass the fiscal 2011 ¥92.411 trillion budget through the Lower House early Tuesday morning. The opposition-controlled Upper House is certain to vote down the budget. But the budget will be enacted anyhow. Article 60 of the Constitution says that the budget will be enacted within 30 days of being sent to the Upper House after the approval by the Lower House even if the Upper House rejects it or does not hold a vote on it.

But the administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan cannot afford to feel relieved because such a constitutional provision does not apply to 26 budget-related bills whose enactment is necessary to put the budget into effect. Since the prospect of the bills being enacted by March 31, the final day of fiscal 2010, is almost nil, the Kan administration will face serious trouble in managing the government.

The vote on the budget in the Lower House took place under unusual circumstances. Sixteen DPJ lawmakers critical of the DPJ leadership for disciplining former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa over his indictment on a charge of falsifying reports on political funds did not show up in the voting in a plenary session of the Lower House. Mr. Ozawa showed up and voted for the budget. The desertion of the 16 has completely killed the prospect of re-enacting the budget-related bills with a two-thirds majority in the Lower House in a second vote.

After Tuesday's vote, the DPJ leadership disciplined the 16 rebellious members. Their action was irresponsible. But the disciplinary measures will further aggravate the rift within the party. DPJ members supporting Mr. Ozawa are critical of Mr. Kan for not making serious efforts to implement election pledges contained in the August 2009 Lower House election, which brought the DPJ to power.

It is clear that given the nation's financial difficulties, it is impossible to carry out all the major election pledges. Some of them are ill conceived, too. But Mr. Kan failed to understand that people voted for the DPJ with a hope that it will be true to its slogan of "People's lives come first." He did not try to show that he was doing his best to turn the slogan into concrete policies even in a limited scale under financial constraints. His failure shows that he did not understand the meaning of the political change of 2009. If he had a taken different attitude, he could have minimized the rift within the DPJ. But he dropped the slogan from the July 2010 Upper House election.

In the vote for the fiscal 2011 budget in the Lower House, the DPJ took an unusual step. It separated the budget-related bills from the budget itself and postponed a vote on them. In recent years, it was customary to vote for the budget and budget-related bills in the Lower House at the same time and send them together to the Upper House because the government's reliance on bond issuance has become high and a bill for the bond issuance is included in budget-related bills.

The DPJ may think that a delay in the vote on the budget-related bills would eventually lead people to criticize the opposition parties that oppose the bills. The opposition parties on their part may think that the delay would deepen people's criticism of the DPJ and the Kan administration. Procrastination by both camps would only deepen people's distrust of politics per se. The failure to enact the bond issuance bill means that the government cannot secure some ¥38 trillion for implementing the budget of slightly more than ¥92 trillion.

After the DPJ was defeated in the Upper House election and the opposition forces secured a majority in the chamber of the Diet, the logical approach for the DPJ should have been to get cooperation from Komeito. Last year, Komeito supported the DPJ bill to give the child allowance to child-rearing families irrespective of their income levels — an important DPJ policy. If the DPJ and Komeito cooperate, they can secure a majority in the Upper House. But DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada did not make any serious efforts to make effective deals with Komeito. His failure to understand the basic situation in the Diet and to take necessary actions is astonishing and shows his inadequacy as a political leader.

If the situation continues, the budget-related bills will not be enacted, thus greatly damaging the economy and people's lives. Both the ruling and opposition forces must compromise from the viewpoint of protecting people's lives. As to the child allowance bill, the DPJ must strongly persuade the opposition parties not to kill it because that would create great confusion for local governments and families. To save the concept that society as a whole must help child-rearing families, the DPJ must do its best so that the allowance will be provided irrespective of those families' income levels even if the allowance is reduced.



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