Lower House approves record ¥96.7 trillion budget


Staff Writer

The Lower House passed a record budget Tuesday, marking a turning point in Diet deliberations that will prompt both the ruling and opposition camps to switch their attention to the next big goal: the Upper House election this summer.

The fiscal 2016 budget totaling ¥96.7 trillion cleared the Lower House, controlled by the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition, by a majority vote Tuesday evening.

The passage through the lower chamber effectively ensures the enactment of the budget by the end of March, when fiscal 2015 will draw to an end, allowing the ruling coalition to meet the key deadline for preventing any confusion in government spending.

The budget was immediately sent to the less powerful Upper House. Even if the Upper House fails to enact the budget by March 31, it will automatically be enacted in 30 days as the Lower House’s decision takes priority under Article 60 of the Constitution.

Japan’s biggest ever budget includes a spending increase of ¥119.1 billion to increase capacity at day care centers to help child-raising households, and ¥42.3 billion to boost public nursing services for the elderly, based on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s much-hyped slogan to promote “dynamic engagement of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, the debt-ridden government will finance ¥34.4 trillion of the ¥96.7 trillion budget by issuing new bonds. The total value of the newly-issued bonds will be ¥2.4 trillion lower than the previous year’s.

The passage of the budget, meanwhile, represents the first major turning point after months of Diet deliberation, as both the ruling and opposition parties will now shift their focus to a full-throttle battle for the Upper House election.

Opposition lawmakers, who went out of their way in the Lower House Budget Committee to attack Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party for a litany of ministerial gaffes and scandals, are likely to use similar tactics during the upcoming Upper House meetings.

Their targets likely will include internal affairs and communications minister Sanae Takaichi, who caused a stir by saying the government is legally authorized to suspend licenses of TV and radio broadcasters if they air programs deemed by the government to be “politically biased.”

Another potential target is rookie Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki, who has repeatedly failed to answer rudimentary legal questions, at times bringing Diet deliberations to a halt.

Opposition parties are now bracing themselves for the Upper House election scheduled in summer, and a rumored simultaneous Lower House election at the same time.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the nation’s biggest opposition party, officially agreed last week to form a new party with the smaller Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) to better counter the LDP-Komeito coalition in the Upper House election.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on whether Abe will forge ahead with what has been dubbed a “double” election by dissolving the Lower House at the time of the Upper House election.

In theory, a double election would favor Abe’s LDP, as opposition parties are currently unlikely to have enough candidates ready for a Lower House election.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said last week that the government may postpone the unpopular 2 percent consumption tax hike slated for next April if the move is seen to be harmful to tax revenues.

His remark spurred speculation that Abe, who dissolved the Lower House in November 2014 after postponing a planned tax hike, may repeat the same tactic again.

In the 2014 election, the LDP won a landslide victory.