Hatoyama hopes to keep promises, find fiscal balance

by

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed confidence Friday in achieving fiscal discipline and keeping the government’s election pledges at the same time, saying he intends to continue cutting down wasteful spending and avoid a consumption tax hike.

“I gave my word that we will not raise the consumption tax while I am responsible for the government. That promise should not be easily taken back,” Hatoyama told a news conference to mark the enactment of the fiscal 2010 budget.

The ¥92.3 trillion budget, which cleared the Diet on Wednesday, will crank out an unprecedented ¥44.3 trillion in new Japanese government bonds. Yet, allocations for a number of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s key campaign pledges remain unclear, including doubling the child allowance in fiscal 2011 from ¥13,000 this year to ¥26,000.

Hatoyama said promises made last year that led to the DPJ’s sweeping Lower House election win have to be balanced with fiscal realities. He also hinted he may engage the opposition camp in an effort to create a bill that would require the government to maintain fiscal discipline in a bid to curb the ballooning government debt.

Regarding the first fiscal annual budget drawn up by the DPJ-led coalition, Hatoyama claimed it embodies a good balance between expenditures and waste-cutting efforts, as demonstrated in the nearly 10 percent rise in welfare spending to ¥27.27 trillion and 18 percent decrease in the public works budget to ¥5.77 trillion.

“We have just stood on the starting line” of changes the DPJ promised in last August’s election, Hatoyama said.

On the sliding Cabinet approval rating to the 30 percent level, he acknowledged the political funds scandals he and his colleagues are embroiled in have dealt a blow to his administration, but he has no plan to step down or reshuffle the Cabinet.

In an otherwise mundane news conference, Hatoyama’s boldest act may have been to open up the briefing to a wider media spectrum, holding to another DPJ pledge.

News conferences at the prime minister’s office up to now have been open only to “kisha” (press) club members who belong to major domestic news organizations, including national daily newspapers, TV stations and wire services. Only a handful of DPJ Cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, had changed that practice.

But the prime minister’s office Friday allowed some 40 journalists, including freelancers and reporters from foreign media organizations, online news sites and magazines, to attend the news conference. Attendants are required to have certain credentials and to register in advance.

“I think there still needs to be further opening up” of news conferences, Hatoyama said, expressing hope that his example will push other ministries to follow suit.

Regarding the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, he repeated that he is seeking a solution that will reduce the burden on Okinawa while gaining U.S. acceptance.

The government will decide on a basic plan by month’s end, but will not reveal specifics immediately since, it may affect negotiations, he said.