Sorting out bills for careful debate

A special committee was set up in the Lower House on April 26 to mainly discuss tax and social welfare reform bills, including a bill to raise the consumption tax. The political parties should have careful discussions in the committee because the bills will directly affect people’s lives.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is obsessed with raising the consumption tax. Regrettably the government has not paid attention to and explained the negative effects that the tax increase will have on the economy.

Although the consumption tax is regressive, the government has not yet worked out concrete steps to alleviate the burden on low-income families in case the consumption tax is raised.

If the government maintains its current attitude, opposition to the consumption tax raise will strengthen. The most important thing is for the government to present a convincing plan to stabilize the social welfare system.

After the Upper House passed censure motions against Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka and infrastructure and transport minister Takeshi Maeda on April 20, the Liberal Democratic Party first decided to boycott all committee deliberations. But facing criticism for its rigidity, it later softened its attitude and agreed with the Democratic Party of Japan to set up the special committee.

The committee will handle as many as 11 bills. They include a bill to provide support for child-rearing families, a bill to unify the pension system for corporate workers and that for public servants, a bill to expand social insurance coverage for irregular workers, and a bill to raise the consumption tax rate from the current 5 percent to 8 percent in April 2014 and to 10 percent in October 2015.

Since the number of bills is large, it may be necessary for both the ruling and opposition blocs to discuss in detail procedural matters, including how to sort out the bills, so that deliberations will go smoothly.

On two bills, though, the LDP and Komeito are calling for separate deliberations from those by the special committee: One bill would introduce a Japanese version of social security numbers, and the other would use special bonds to enable the government to shoulder 50 percent of basic pension benefits. This call seems reasonable. The introduction of social security numbers, especially, will require careful discussions because there are worries that personal information could be leaked under the planned system.