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Newly appointed economic and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano said Sunday he expects the ruling and opposition parties to agree on a consumption tax hike aimed at covering social welfare costs rather than reducing the fiscal deficit.

“The idea that, if the tax should be raised, it should be used to cover social welfare costs, not fiscal reconstruction, is shared by many parties,” Yosano said on an NHK political show.

However, he stopped short of detailing specific measures to comprehensively reform the nation’s ailing social welfare and public financing programs.

“We should carefully discuss how to allocate the taxes and premiums that are the sources of social welfare benefits,” Yosano said.

Yosano, a veteran lawmaker and fiscal conservative, acquired his current post after leaving the tiny opposition party Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan). He was also named minister for social security reform.

Known as an advocate of higher taxes, Yosano was the brains behind the economic policies promoted by the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party and served as finance minister in the previous LDP-led government, which was ousted by the Democratic Party of Japan in an historic election in September 2009.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s recruitment of the veteran lawmaker has fueled speculation his government will make raising the consumption tax, which currently stands at 5 percent, a top priority.

Calls to resign

Angered by his betrayal, senior politicians in the opposition Liberal Democratic Party demanded Saturday that former member Kaoru Yosano resign from the Lower House.

“He should remove his Diet lapel pin if he is joining the Democratic Party of Japan government that he so harshly criticized,” LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara told reporters in Tokyo. “I cannot trust him as a person and it would be difficult to forge a relationship of trust.”

Yosano, who was one of the LDP’s most experienced lawmakers, joined the reshuffled Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan as an independent on Friday after resigning from the minor opposition party Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan), which he helped form.

“Mr. Yosano has just written a book that said the Japanese economy will collapse under the DPJ government. He is a Cabinet member against whom I personally want to submit a censure motion from the start” of the Diet’s first session in January, said Ichita Yamamoto, chairman of the LDP’s Policy Board in the House of Councilors, during an appearance on a TV program.

Yosano, a fiscal conservative, joins the ruling party as its economic and fiscal policy minister. In the 2009 general election, he secured a Lower House seat on the LDP’s ticket through proportional representation but left to establish Tachiagare Nippon in April 2010.

Yukio Edano, the new chief Cabinet secretary, told reporters that the opposition camp should wait to see how Yosano handles his new ministerial responsibilities before rushing to judge him.

The DPJ’s acting leader, Yoshito Sengoku, said on another TV program that it would be a “great misfortune for the people” if lawmakers abandon talk about policy just to question Yosano’s past comments and his decision to join the Cabinet. Sengoku was replaced by Edano in the reshuffle.

New Justice Minister Satsuki Eda urged more opposition lawmakers to follow in Yosano’s footsteps.

“As one door closes, another one opens,” Eda said in a speech in Okayama. “If the first such person was Mr. Yosano, the door must be opened for him.”

A day after the Cabinet was launched, many of its members appeared on TV shows Saturday to promote the DPJ’s policies.

Among them, former Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii, who was appointed deputy chief Cabinet secretary, said a consumption tax hike is needed to finance the nation’s ballooning social welfare costs, not to reduce the fiscal deficit.

Based on past experience, raising the consumption tax to cover the fiscal deficit “does not work,” he said, adding that the public needs to be convinced before going through with the tax hike.

Meanwhile, Kan decided to appoint Osamu Fujimura, former vice minister for health, labor and welfare, as the DPJ’s new acting secretary general, the post previously held by Edano.

He also named DPJ Vice President Hajime Ishii as the party’s election bureau chief, ruling party sources said.

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