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Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009

Extra budget with cash handouts passed


By MASAMI ITO and KAZUAKI NAGATA
Staff writers

Political wrangling in the Diet over the controversial second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 ended Tuesday when the ruling bloc's legislation effectively prevailed by default.

The ¥4.79 trillion extra budget includes Prime Minister Taro Aso's contentious ¥2 trillion cash handout program. Although the government-submitted extra budget was rejected Monday morning by the opposition-controlled Upper House, the Constitution gives final say to the Lower House on budget decisions when the two chambers are at loggerheads.

The Aso government's next hurdle is to get bills related to the extra budget approved. Unless they are passed, the government can't begin the cash handout, which will include registered foreign residents.

Opposition camp resistance may keep the Diet from enacting the bills until mid-March.

The opposition camp, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, fought tooth and nail against the cash handout, a key Aso economic goal.

The opposition parties repeatedly urged him and the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition to scrap the handout and instead use the money for other purposes that benefit the public, including medical services, social welfare and education.

Other supplementary budget measures, such as lowering highway fees and providing free medical checkups to pregnant women, will also be on hold until the still-pending bills are passed.

The DPJ opposes only the cash handout program.

"I am extremely disappointed that the second extra budget, which includes the cash handout program, was approved," DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama told reporters.

"But the budget-related bills remain and we will hold thorough discussions and let the public decide what is correct," he said.

Because the two houses were split, a joint committee of both chambers was formed Monday afternoon with 10 members from the ruling bloc representing the Lower House and 10 opposition members from the Upper House. The group held meetings on and off until Tuesday afternoon.

In the end, it failed to reach an agreement, thus, in line with the Constitution, the Lower House passage of the ruling bloc's extra budget prevailed.

The members of the joint committee "all agreed unanimously that while there were many opinions, we could not come to an agreement," LDP Lower House lawmaker Seishiro Eto said. "I believe yesterday and today's joint committee was extremely satisfying."

This was the first time in nearly 15 years that a joint committee could not come to a conclusion in a day. DPJ lawmakers expressed satisfaction that the joint committee served as a new forum of policymaking in a divided Diet.

"Until today, these joint committees were only a formality without discussions, even over a difference in opinion," DPJ Upper House lawmaker Hajime Ishii said. "I think even the ruling bloc has come to understand the importance of the joint committee, which is stipulated in the Constitution."



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