Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Tuesday reiterated the need to hold nonpartisan talks on tax reform, telling a session of the Lower House Budget Committee that the government must curb the growing national debt.

“Discussing how we should pay for our social welfare is necessary,” Kan said, adding that raising the consumption tax should “obviously” be one of the issues on the table.

Last week Kan officially apologized in a meeting of Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers for the party’s setback in the July 11 election, acknowledging that his “careless” remarks on hiking the consumption tax contributed to the failure of the DPJ-led coalition to hold its majority in the Upper House.

But on Tuesday Kan insisted that discussing a tax hike is inevitable in the face of shrinking tax revenue and growing social security costs.

“This must be discussed regardless of party affiliation,” he said.

Touching on budgetary constraints, Kan also defended the DPJ’s flip-flop on a monthly child allowance of up to ¥26,000 starting in fiscal 2011. The party has hinted it will drop the pledge in favor of improved administrative services.

“Many citizens are asking that we improve our services” instead of handing out cash, Kan said, while insisting that although the DPJ may not “follow through 100 percent” on its campaign pledges, the administration will continue to assist families raising children.

Meanwhile, National Public Safety Commission Chairman Hiroshi Nakai explained at the same committee session that former North Korean spy Kim Hyon Hui received VIP treatment during her stay in Tokyo in response to a request from Seoul that she be given some recreational time.

During her four-day stay in Japan last month, Kim met with families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents. However, the government took flak for lavish treatment extended to the former death-row inmate, including a helicopter tour of Tokyo.

The South Korean government asked that Kim be “taken on a sightseeing visit” during her stay, Nakai told the committee. He also acknowledged that it was his decision to transport Kim by chopper.

The second day of the first budget committee sessions since the DPJ lost the Upper House election found the prime minister on the defensive again, pleading with opposition forces to collaborate on policymaking.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, who had called on Kan to “show a positive and forward-looking attitude” despite the Diet reversals suffered by the DPJ, said the prime minister is so far “doing fairly well.”

On Wednesday, Kan was scheduled to face the Upper House Budget Committee. The extraordinary Diet session ends Friday.

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