The Diet kicked off deliberations Friday on the contentious bill to double the 5 percent consumption tax by 2015, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is urging the opposition camp to help ensure its passage by the end of the Diet session in June.
During the afternoon Lower House plenary session, opposition parties blasted Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan for seeking the sales tax hike after promising during the 2009 Lower House poll campaign not to pursue raising the levy during the elected lawmakers’ four-year term.
Noda countered that the DPJ did not violate its election platform because the tax hike will not begin until after the current Lower House members’ term ends in summer 2013.
“Our party made statements during the previous Lower House election campaign that were lame or went too far, and I must earnestly reflect on the past and apologize that the DPJ lacked discussions on the (platform) during our time in the opposition camp,” Noda said.
But he once again reiterated the need to reform the social security and tax systems amid the snowballing national debt and rapidly aging society.
“We are at a crucial point where the sustainability of Japan’s social security system and finances is on the line,” Noda said. “We cannot run away from this social security and tax system reform, and the ruling and opposition forces must hold constructive discussions and implement the reform for the country and its people.”
The outlook for the tax bill remains gloomy because the main opposition force, the Liberal Democratic Party, is more bent on pressing Noda to dissolve the lower chamber and call an election first.
Many DPJ members, particularly allies of kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, also strongly oppose the tax hike.
LDP lawmaker Takeshi Noda meanwhile pointed out that the LDP itself was not against a 10 percent tax but said various obstacles standing in the way of tax hike talks.
“Look around carefully. Do you really think the environment (is ready) to move the discussions forward?” he asked Noda. “There are many major hurdles, including seeking the support of the people, the DPJ’s internal political situation and the party’s policy principles. These matters need to be dealt with before beginning talks (of the tax hike).”
Noda-Ozawa meet floated
Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi has offered to arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa and the main topic will probably be Noda’s quest to double the consumption tax and Ozawa’s opposition to such a move.
Such a meeting “is necessary,” Koshiishi said at a Thursday news conference. “I am sure they can reach an agreement.”
Koshiishi hopes the meeting will take place next week. Noda has staked his political career on early passage of bills needed to raise the consumption tax, while Ozawa strongly opposes any such increase.
Ozawa’s DPJ membership was reinstated Thursday in line with the party’s decision two days earlier to lift his suspension after he was found not guilty of false reporting of political funds.
Koshiishi declined comment about criticism from DPJ members that the party should not have reinstated his membership before an appeal against the verdict was made Wednesday.
At a House of Representatives plenary meeting Thursday, Noda said all DPJ members, including himself, should respect the decision to lift the suspension.
DPJ budget chief ousted
Democratic Party of Japan member Hajime Ishii has tendered his resignation as chairman of the Upper House Budget Committee after opposition parties ripped him over an unauthorized overseas trip.
The letter of resignation he submitted to Upper House President Kenji Hirata on Thursday is expected to be approved at a plenary meeting next week.
In remarks to reporters, Ishii admitted failing to follow the correct Diet procedures before setting off for the Philippines late last month.
Ishii applied for permission from the Upper House to visit the country for four days from May 3 to attend various events, including the general meeting of a bilateral parliamentarian group he chairs, and the chamber’s steering committee approved the trip.
But as he departed Japan on April 27 and returned Monday, his 11-day trip was deemed unauthorized and the opposition pounced on the chance to take down a ruling party foe.
House of Councilors members are also required to obtain approval from the chamber’s president for overseas visits of up to seven days when the Diet is in session, and for longer trips must gain permission at a plenary meeting.
According to the steering committee, Ishii explained that he hurriedly left for the Philippines because of a party he had to attend April 28.
A year ago, Ishii was forced to resign as deputy head of the DPJ’s special response team on the March 2011 calamities after he was caught playing golf on an overseas visit, also to the Philippines.
He denied playing any rounds during his latest trip.