Diet passes stimulus worth ¥7.2 trillion

by Alex Martin and Jun Hongo

A ¥7.2 trillion supplementary budget aimed at avoiding a double-dip recession cleared the Diet on Thursday, giving Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama some relief in the face of a series of money scandals and a declining approval rate.

Despite persistent grilling by the opposition over shady donations to Hatoyama’s political fund management body as well as an unregistered land purchase by Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJ passed the budget with relative ease thanks to its junior coalition partners as well as support from New Komeito.

The budget plan — the first to be compiled by the DPJ administration — was put together after scrapping the previous Liberal Democratic Party-led government’s plans. The government hopes the spending package will lift the economy, which has been battered by deflation and the strong yen.

Key features of the stimulus package include ¥3.5 trillion to help regional economies recover from the downturn, ¥800 billion to support measures against climate change and ¥600 billion to deal with the high unemployment rate.

Included in the package are incentives to increase purchases of energy-efficient appliances and cars by extending the government’s Eco-point program. According to Finance Minister Naoto Kan, the supplementary budget will lift gross domestic product by 0.7 percent over a year.

The extra budget, the second for fiscal 2009, will be funded partly by frozen funds from the LDP’s previous supplementary budget plan. The government will also issue ¥9.3 trillion in government bonds to cover a drop in tax income.

While going on the offensive in criticizing Hatoyama and Ozawa for their shoddy funds control, LDP lawmakers also rapped the supplementary budget, saying Kan’s predictions are naive.

During a session of the Upper House Budget Committee, the LDP’s Shoji Nishida criticized the DPJ for freezing much of the first supplementary budget, which had been compiled when the LDP’s Taro Aso was still prime minister.