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Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008

Stopgap bill eyed to keep gas, auto taxes

DPJ, Fukuda gearing up for another bitter clash

Staff writer

The ruling coalition is considering taking the unusual move of submitting a stopgap bill to the Diet to maintain provisional gasoline and other auto-related tax rates until May 31, triggering angry protests from the opposition parties.

Last week, the government submitted a tax reform bill for fiscal 2008, including a clause to maintain the current rates for special higher gasoline and other auto-related taxes, due to expire at the end of March, for another 10 years, which is the key goal for Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda this Diet session.

But the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, has declared its intention to abolish the special additional tax rates and to lower gasoline prices.

In a divided Diet in which the DPJ-led opposition parties control the Upper House, it is not clear whether the government's tax reform bill can be enacted before the deadline at the end of March.

Should the provisional tax rates expire, the price of gasoline will drop, possibly creating a huge shortage in revenue. That is why the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc came up with this unusual measure to maintain the current rates provisionally until the tax reform bill is approved.

The ruling bloc sought the cooperation of the opposition parties Monday afternoon to pass the budget and budget-related bills through the Diet before the end of fiscal 2007. The LDP and New Komeito also told the four opposition parties that they are considering the submission of a stopgap bill as a safety net.

Kenji Yamaoka, the Diet affairs chief of the DPJ slammed the stopgap bill, calling it unreasonable.

"I've never heard of such a stupid bill before," said DPJ Diet affairs chief Kenji Yamaoka. "There is no room for compromising."

Tadamori Oshima, the Diet affairs chief of the LDP, said that he would do his best to find common ground amid "angry voices of the public that are saying that confrontations, locking horns (among ruling and opposition parties) are not the only way.

"The political situation changes every day," Oshima told reporters. "The job of politicians is to find a method based on the interests of the public and the nation."

During a meeting of the Lower House budget committee, however, Fukuda said he has "not acknowledged that the ruling bloc has decided to submit (the stopgap) bill."

"I think that the ruling bloc is trying hard to pass the (tax reform bill) by the end of the fiscal year to prevent it affecting the national economy and people's lives," Fukuda said. "I am not sure what the ruling bloc will decide, but we are aiming to pass the budget and related bills by the end of the fiscal year so as not to cause trouble for the people — that is our strong desire."

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The Japan Times

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