Ruling bloc steamrollers second extra budget

Opposition parties cry foul, slam coalition's tactics as 'an outrage'

by Masami Ito

Overriding shouts of protest from the opposition parties, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito bloc rammed the second extra budget for fiscal 2008 through the Lower House on Tuesday.

The extra budget includes Prime Minister Taro Aso’s key ¥2 trillion cash handout program, even though according to a recent Kyodo News survey it is opposed by more than 70 percent of the public.

The opposition camp, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, has harshly criticized the planned payout, arguing the ¥2 trillion could be better spent on other programs to help the public.

Though three opposition parties, including the DPJ, boycotted the vote, the extra budget and bills are now on their way to the opposition-controlled Upper House.

DPJ lawmaker Yukio Edano slammed the ruling coalition’s tactic as “an outrage.”

“In accordance with the wishes of the public, the cash handout program should be removed from the second extra budget,” said Edano, a member of the Lower House budget committee. “Furthermore, deliberations on the budget are insufficient and we cannot vote on the budget at this time.”

Aso’s cash payout has also drawn fire from within the LDP. Kenta Matsunami, the parliamentary secretary to the Cabinet, left the plenary session before the vote to express his opposition.

Later in the evening, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura accepted the resignation of former administrative reform minister Yoshimi Watanabe. Unlike Watanabe, Matsunami told reporters he has no intention of leaving the LDP.

The government and the ruling bloc, however, are determined to get the extra budget enacted in a hurry.

“Considering the current economic situation and the local governments that are waiting for the swift enactment of the budget, we have a duty to respond to such needs,” Kawamura said.

Because the Lower House is controlled by the ruling bloc, the extra budget was able to pass the chamber, which convened on Jan. 5, after only three days of deliberations.

The sailing is unlikely to be so smooth in the opposition-controlled Upper House.

Nevertheless, because Article 60 of the Constitution gives final say on the budget to the Lower House, even if the Upper House refuses to act, the legislation will be automatically enacted 30 days after it is handed over to the upper chamber.

Related bills, however, also need to pass the Diet for Aso to execute the cash handout. If the opposition-controlled Upper House refuses to vote on the bills, the ruling bloc can ram them through the Diet with a two-thirds majority in a second vote held in the Lower House after 60 days.

For Aso, however, this is just the beginning. He must now begin tackling the budget for fiscal 2009, expected to be submitted to the Diet next week.

But overall the prospects are bleak for the Aso Cabinet, which just saw its support rate fall to 19.2 percent, according to Kyodo News.