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Heated discussions are going on in the Lower House Budget Committee. The committee’s main task is to deliberate on the fiscal 2009 budget, which will play an important role in pulling the Japanese economy out of the current recession. But traditionally the Budget Committee also deals with diplomatic and other issues.

Prime Minister Taro Aso may dissolve the Lower House and hold a snap election this spring following the enactment of the fiscal 2009 budget. At the latest, a Lower House election will be held in autumn because Lower House members’ current terms will expire in September.

Therefore, it is logical for opposition forces to focus their attack against the government in Budget Committee discussions. As a Lower House election nears, it will be important for both the ruling and opposition parties to present their policy agenda through Diet deliberations. They should not forget that the voters who hope to make a proper judgment at election time want the political parties to explain their policy measures clearly.

In the Budget Committee discussions, the opposition parties have taken up such issues as raising the consumption tax rate to cover increasing social welfare costs, freeing up the use of revenues from road-related taxes, reforming the national servants’ system, and creating employment opportunities.

To some extent, the committee discussions have clarified important problems the nation must solve. Both the ruling and opposition blocs are responsible for making the discussions meaningful, and not just use them to political advantage. Focusing only on short-term issues is not enough. They need to assign priority to policy measures that will get the nation out of this deepening crisis and ensure long-term stabilization.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the top opposition force, has the task of presenting an alternative vision for the future of Japan and backing it up with clear policy measures. In this sense, it is regrettable that party chief Ichiro Ozawa has not taken part in the Budget Committee discussions. Even a brief explanation for this by Mr. Ozawa would have been welcomed by voters.

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