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As Diet discussions shifts into top gear, the confrontation between the ruling and opposition is growing fierce over a ¥2 trillion household cash-benefit package that is included in a second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008. The opposition wants the ¥2 trillion plan dropped from the budget and proposes discussing use of the money directly for social welfare and employment once the budget has been revised. Even some ruling bloc lawmakers doubt the cash-benefit measure would stimulate the economy.

In a Kyodo News poll. 70.5 percent of those surveyed were against the cash-benefit scheme. In a Sankei-Shimbun Fuji News Network poll, 77.9 percent of respondents said they do not rate highly the Aso administration’s handling of the cash benefits issue. Furthermore, 75.1 percent said the measure amounted to “scattering of money” that is undesirable.

The government has flip-flopped in explaining the nature of the cash-benefit measure. Prime Minister Taro Aso first stated that measure was intended to help poorer households and opposed giving them to well-off families, so talk ensued of setting an eligibility ceiling on household income. But now the prime minister says that wealthier families should also receive the money and use it to help stimulate the economy.

When a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker pointed out that no relevant law or ordinance exists to delegate to local governments the responsibility of distributing the cash benefits, finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa replied that local governments can decide whether to receive the money or not. This shows how haphazardly the cash-benefits scheme was conceived and strengthens the case for dropping the measure from the supplementary budget. Diet discussions should instead focus on more effective ways of stimulating the economy and improving the employment situation.

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