National / Politics

Lower House OKs record ¥101 trillion budget for fiscal 2019

Kyodo

The Lower House approved a record ¥101.46 trillion ($913 billion) budget for fiscal 2019 early Saturday, ensuring its enactment before the new fiscal year begins on April 1.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition pushed the spending plan through the House of Representatives past midnight, after opposition lawmakers halted deliberations the previous day by submitting a no-confidence motion against labor minister Takumi Nemoto over his handling of a faulty jobs data scandal.

The initial general-account budget topped ¥100 trillion for the first time amid swelling social security costs and defense spending, as well as fiscal stimulus aimed at underpinning domestic demand after the second half of a consumption tax hike is completed in October.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner Komeito had initially hoped to get the budget through the Lower House on Thursday, but the plan was delayed when the opposition camp tabled a vote of no confidence against Nemoto, calling for his resignation.

Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan told reporters Nemoto was being “insincere” in dealing with the revelation that his ministry has been publishing an improperly compiled monthly labor survey for nearly 15 years.

Nemoto, who was appointed in October, said he had done his job “to the best of (his) ability.” The motion was voted down by the ruling bloc.

The budget will now be sent to the House of Councilors, but it is certain to be enacted before fiscal 2018 ends on March 31 because the Constitution stipulates that decisions by the Lower House take precedence over those by the Upper House.

The budget will thus automatically take effect 30 days after the Lower House passes it.

The spending plan has already been through twists and turns. Less than a month after being approved by Abe’s Cabinet in December it had to be reworked to include ¥650 million in costs related to the labor data scandal, which caused the underpayment of work-related benefits to more than 20 million people.

More than a third of the budget, a record ¥34.06 trillion, will go toward social security programs such as pensions and health care. Government spending on such programs has continued to rise as the elderly make up an increasingly large part of the population.

Defense spending will also hit a record high at ¥5.26 trillion, partly because of the government’s purchase of the Aegis Ashore missile defense system and half a dozen F-35A stealth fighters.

As part of efforts to alleviate negative economic impacts when the consumption tax is increased from the current 8 percent to 10 percent on Oct. 1, the government has earmarked ¥2.03 trillion in fiscal measures, including a rebate program for cashless purchases and shopping vouchers for households with low incomes or small children.