In the best LDP tradition, the LDP leadership has decided to muddle the message of the bill. The LDP has produced a draft with language that calls for implementing “essential legislative measures by 2011” for fundamental tax reform including the consumption tax, but also adds that the precise timing of said measures will depend on “the state of the process of economic recovery and an examination of trends in the global economy.” The draft also calls for a two-stage increase of the consumption tax. Finally, it included language designed to appease the potential rebels by calling for appropriate measures to promote administrative reform and eliminate wasteful spending.
The LDP leadership hopes to secure a cabinet decision on the draft by Friday.
Amazingly, these minor edits appear to be sufficient to quell the discontent among the LDP’s reformists. Said Nakagawa Hidenao in response to the additions: “The supplementary provisions cannot be said to be a tax increase bill; they are nothing more than instructional provisions.” His fellow malcontent, Yamamoto Ichita, is less impressed with the compromise.
“Anywhere you look in the world,” he writes, “there are no governments saying things like, ‘Depending on the situation we will raise taxes after three years.'” He believes that far from being “merely instructional,” the plan will appear to the public as a solid commitment to a tax increase, a tax increase that Mr. Yamamoto does not deny may one day be necessary but argues that for now is political and economic folly to discuss.
The compromise may be a way for the tax hikers to create a foothold; if the LDP somehow survives this year’s general election and if the reformists are diminished by the returns, they now have a basis for going forward with a firmer commitment. Instructions now, substance later.
For the same reason, I wonder whether the Japanese press is declaring a truce in the tax rebellion prematurely. Mr. Yamamoto’s response does not sound like someone who is content with the party’s compromise — and I’m sure he’s not alone. It may be that the rest of the reformists do not share Mr. Nakagawa’s desire to accommodate the party.
Meanwhile, I think I am with Kono Taro on this debate. At his blog, Mr. Kono muses on the growing severity of the downturn and wonders why the LDP is wasting its time on whether to hike the consumption tax in 2011 — a time at which, he notes, the LDP may not even be the ruling party — when sales are falling, company debt is growing, credit is freezing, and manufacturing is shrieking to a halt. He assumes that another stimulus package will be unavoidable, and that the LDP should be doing all it can to stop the bleeding instead of debating whether to raise taxes once the economy recovers.