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Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009
Diet poised to OK second extra budget
¥2 trillion handout program likely to pass over opposition protest
By MASAMI ITO
The Diet was set Monday to approve over the strong protests of opposition parties a second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 that includes Prime Minister Taro Aso's controversial ¥2 trillion cash handout.
However, it was unclear if the stimulus measure would pass before the day's end because the opposition parties in the afternoon engaged in a full-blown battle with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito bloc over the unpopular payout program.
The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, has repeatedly demanded that the government abandon what it calls the "pork-barrel" program and use the money in other ways to help the public. Various opinion polls have shown that the majority of the public are against Aso's key economic policy.
"The people are asking for the money to be used for pensions, medical services, education and social welfare," said DPJ lawmaker Hiroe Makiyama during an Upper House budget committee meeting. "The government ignored public opinion and decided on the cash handout program by itself and is trying to force the implementation."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura argued for the program, which would distribute ¥12,000 to each individual including registered foreigners. People 18 and younger or 65 and older would get an extra ¥8,000.
"The aim of the cash handout program is to help with the people's livelihood and also for an economic effect by increasing consumption," Kawamura explained during the budget committee meeting. "It is an important part of (the government's) policy."
Aso has been criticized for flip-flopping on the program. Initially saying it would be "mean-spirited" for the rich to accept the cash, he then turned around and said everyone should use the ¥12,000 "in grand style."
The government also has been inconsistent on the matter with some Cabinet ministers saying they would accept the money, while others, including Aso, have kept mum. Akira Amari, the minister of economy, trade and industry, declared that he would not take the cash.
"It is a serious problem that there is not a unified understanding of the program even within the Cabinet," said DPJ Lower House lawmaker Masaharu Nakagawa. "Even through deliberations in the Diet, (the ruling bloc) couldn't make the public understand the cash handout program — in fact, it just triggered further public distrust (in politics)."
Earlier Monday, the opposition-controlled Upper House rejected the extra budget, which passed the Lower House on Jan. 13. But according to Article 60 of the Constitution, when the decision of the two houses differ, the House of Representatives gets final say.
The government is aiming to implement the cash handout program before the end of fiscal 2008, but to do so, budget-related bills must also be enacted. The related bills are still in the Upper House for deliberation and it is unclear when the chamber, led by the DPJ, will be ready to vote on them.
Article 59 stipulates that if a bill is rejected in the Upper House or 60 days pass without a vote, the bill will be returned to the Lower House for a second vote. The bill can then be enacted with a two-thirds majority, which the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito bloc currently holds.
The extra budget is only the beginning of Aso's troubles in the current Diet session. Last week, the government submitted the budget for fiscal 2009 and related bills to the Lower House for deliberation.