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Monday, Oct. 3, 2011
Driving 'safe' through the Diet
The latest extraordinary Diet session, which started after the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was inaugurated, ended on Friday. Mr. Noda put priority on "safe driving" in the Diet — that is, minimizing controversial or problematic statements by him and his Cabinet members when they answer questions in the Diet.
Therefore, the prime minister left the impression that he was carefully avoiding straightforward answers to penetrating questions by opposition members. Although a month has passed since he became prime minister, Mr. Noda has held few news conferences — another result of the safe-driving tactic.
Even so, he made it clear that he will push reconstruction from the triple disasters of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant while sticking to the idea of raising taxes.
He also expressed the hope that the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito will sit at the same table with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to launch consultations on policy matters.
The basis for pushing Mr. Noda's policy agenda is to have the Diet pass the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2012. The path for that does not look smooth.
While he is eager to raise taxes as a means of raising funds for the reconstruction, some DPJ members oppose his idea, fearing that tax raises will have the effect of cooling the economy amid persistent deflation. The Noda administration plans to start another Diet session in mid-October to discuss the budget.
Besides the budget, Mr. Noda must pay serious attention to the needs of people affected by the triple disasters. One pressing issue is helping people burdened by "double loans" — paying back loans for their residences destroyed by the quake and tsunami as well as loans for their new residences.
Decontaminating areas affected by radioactive substances from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and finding places for storing soil removed from contaminated areas are other important issues.
And Mr. Noda is under pressure from the United States to resolve the issue of relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa Island. He needs to speak clearly before both the Diet and the people with regard to his thinking on important issues that Japan is facing.