The special tax war heats up

As noted by Jun Okumura, the Fukuda government has thrown down the gauntlet in the debate over the extension of the temporary gasoline tax. The LDP and Komeito agreed Monday to submit a bill to the HR Tuesday (and pass by Wednesday) that will extend the tax for two months, giving the government time to both pursue a compromise with the opposition while still leaving two months to use Article 59 over the HC’s objections if necessary.

The DPJ and other opposition parties responded with outrage. The DPJ is now debating its options, trying to decide whether to use the HC censure motion against the government, or, alternatively, boycotting Diet proceedings. I hope that the party opts against the latter. What does staying away from the Diet accomplish, other than give the LDP and its friends in the media an opportunity to tar the DPJ with the “irresponsible” tag? The censure motion card is not that much more inviting, because as before its power will depend on public opinion. If it plays it at the wrong time, the DPJ will toss away its one potential weapon against the government.

For the moment, then, the DPJ has little choice but to stay in the Diet and hammer the government over its misguided policies. It must, however, move beyond its emphasis on the numbers involved and start talking about how it will change Japan. As Yamaguchi Jiro, a Hokkaido University political scientist and DPJ sympathizer, wrote at his blog, “…The DPJ must constantly convey to the people a concrete message of what they will do for Japanese society when they take power. This message — merely a cut in the price of gasoline — is deplorable.”

The DPJ must tread carefully now, especially with Mr. Fukuda’s changing the government’s reasoning on the temporary tax to emphasize its role in environmental protection. In Diet deliberations on Monday, he pointed to Europe’s high gasoline taxes to argue that Japan can do more for the environment, like paying equally high taxes. The DPJ should hammer the government on this shift, but it will have a hard time doing that if it vacates the Diet.

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