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Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009

Opposition bill lacks handouts


Staff writer

In a bid to put a stop to the proposed ¥2 trillion cash handout program, three opposition parties on Tuesday jointly submitted a revised version of the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 that would eliminate Prime Minister Taro Aso's key measure.

In exchange for scrapping the program, the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) pledge to cooperate with the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc to swiftly pass the extra budget.

The ruling coalition, however, appears intent on turning down the proposal and ramming the supplementary budget through the Lower House.

"The cash handout program is an important measure to protect the livelihood of the people . . . and I am not considering cutting it out of the extra budget," Aso said during a plenary session in the Lower House.

"It is an emergency measure to assist households experiencing anxiety over the recession and, in addition, it will have an economic effect by distributing the money widely and increasing consumption."

Under the program, each person, including registered foreigners, would receive ¥12,000 from the government. Those 18 and younger or 65 and older would receive ¥8,000.

Even if the opposition-controlled Upper House stalls the bill, the Lower House has the authority to revote on and pass the budget if the upper chamber refuses to act within 30 days after receiving it. Article 60 of the Constitution gives priority to the Lower House on budget matters.

But forcibly passing the bill risks angering the opposition parties, who could retaliate by taking a harder line on other key government legislation, including the fiscal 2009 budget and budget-related bills.

At the day's Diet session, opposition parties slammed the cash handout plan, accusing Aso and the ruling bloc of cynical maneuvering ahead of the upcoming Lower House general election, which must be held no later than September.

Addressing the prime minister directly, DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama said, "Aso, if you think that the people will be pleased at getting cash and that will lead to an increase in Diet seats for the LDP and New Komeito and a successful election for your friends, the ministers, that is a shallow way of thinking."

Labeling the cash program the "ultimate stupid policy" and "a waste of tax money," Hatoyama urged Aso to reconsider the plan.

Hatoyama asserted that the ¥2 trillion could be better spent on programs to aid the unemployed, the elderly, single mothers and small and midsize firms in financial difficulty.

"It isn't too late," Hatoyama stressed. "I would like to reach out to the prime minister's conscience, once again, to ask whether he has the intention to separate the cash benefits program from the extra budget and rationally reconsider effective ways to use the ¥2 trillion."



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