Collision ahead

Thanks to Mainichi, we have a calendar of this week’s events related to the progress of the budget and budget-related legislation — the latter including the special measures bill on taxation — through the House of Representatives and its committees.

It’ll be a busy week.

The budget will be discussed in the Budget Committee all this week. Budget-related legislation will be discussed in the whole House on Tuesday, after which it may or may not go to the Financial and Monetary Affairs Committee. The Budget Committee will debate the subject of road funding on Thursday, with the government’s bill directing the balance of gasoline tax revenue to the general fund going before the whole House the same day, after which the bill may or may not go before the Land and Transportation Committee. (In the midst of all this, Kan Naoto — apparently a glutton for punishment — will be debating the temporary gasoline tax at another meeting of the National Governors Association in Tokyo on Tuesday.)

As Mainichi notes, with the DPJ’s having shifted its focus from the tax to the special fund for road construction, the battle will be particularly fierce over the government’s bill shifting the gasoline tax revenue left after “essential” road construction to the general fund. The DPJ, not surprisingly, considers the government’s proposal watered down and ultimately meaningless.

The deal negotiated between Messrs. Kono and Eda is likely doomed, especially once legislation is passed from the HR to the House of Councillors. Koshiish Azuma, head of the DPJ caucus in the HC, promised a decisive battle in the HC over the gasoline tax, which would presumably force the government to extend the temporary tax for two months to give the HR time to pass it again. The government has indicated that it will not relent in the face of HC (and DPJ) intransigence, and will do whatever necessary to prevent the “chaos” that would result from the expiration of the temporary tax.

I hope that the DPJ does not cave on this issue. Even if the government ultimately gets its way on both the temporary tax and the partial redirection of gasoline tax revenue, I hope the DPJ continues to make the point that the LDP would rather fund the construction of “necessary” roads (enriching the companies that build them) than, for example, the failing hospitals that dot the landscape.

Even if the LDP and the Fukuda government win this legislative battle, the DPJ can make it a Pyrrhic victory by using it to illustrate that the LDP, for all the talk of reform, remains a party unable to make the hard decisions required to secure Japan’s future.

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