The Diet on Friday passed the fiscal 2004 budget, which totals 82.11 trillion yen.

The amount is up 0.4 percent from the previous year’s initial budget. Policy-related general expenditures — the budget’s core — amount to 47.63 trillion yen, up 0.1 percent. The government will issue a record 36.59 trillion yen in fresh government bonds under the budget.

With the enactment of the budget, which comes in time for the Thursday start of fiscal 2004, the Diet will begin deliberations next week on major bills, including those on pension system reform and privatization of the highway corporations.

“From now on, we would like to concentrate on deliberations on pension reform and many other important bills,” LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe told a news conference. Abe reiterated the party’s resolve to have the pension reform legislation passed by the end of the current Diet session on June 16.

The ruling coalition is pressed for time to deliberate on the major bills, with the House of Councilors’ election scheduled for July, but opposition parties have expressed their determination to block the bills’ passage.

The Democratic Party of Japan is working out counterproposals on pension reform and highway privatization.

The opposition parties called the budget problematic, saying it places a heavy burden on the public and local governments to cover the swelling social security and debt-servicing costs.

But Diet deliberations on the budget lacked any sense of tension between the ruling coalition and the opposition.

“Those who say there was no lively debate in the Diet point out that the opposition parties didn’t stop or boycott deliberations, but things won’t work that way now,” DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada told reporters.

After-the-fact talks

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Friday he might discuss pension reform steps with opposition party members after the government-sponsored bills on the issue are passed by the Diet.

Koizumi told a news conference following the passage of the fiscal 2004 budget that he hoped the bills would be passed during the current Diet session.

The bills set numerical targets for raising pension premiums and cutting future benefits without proposing any measures to correct a huge burden imbalance among premium payers.

“If we are in a situation where we can have frank discussions,” Koizumi said, “that’s also good.”

He said he will set up a special government office next month to prepare for the privatization of the state-run postal services.

He said Yoshiaki Watanabe, former vice agriculture minister, will head the preparatory office and be appointed as special adviser to the prime minister.

Koizumi said he chose Watanabe over officials of the Finance Ministry and former Posts and Telecommunications Ministry because the whole government should address the privatization issue by overcoming the sectionalism that exists among ministries.

In a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence later in the day, Koizumi told Watanabe to exercise leadership in discussions of postal service reforms.

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