Question-and-Answer Session: Is Diet a Place to Compete over Lavish Spending of Funds?

The Diet cannot fulfill its duty if political parties merely compete over the scale of benefits and tax reductions. The government and the ruling and opposition parties should discuss in more detail through Diet debates what is necessary for people’s lives and the vitalization of the economy.

In the Diet, representatives of each party asked questions about the policy speech delivered by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, focusing on measures to combat high prices.

Kenta Izumi, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, responded to the prime minister’s repeated use of the word “economy,” saying: “It’s benefits, benefits, benefits. Benefit payments should be made swiftly.”

The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito is considering reducing taxes, including income tax, in response to Kishida’s directive to return part of the “recent growth in tax revenues to the public.” Cutting taxes by a fixed amount of ¥40,000 per person on a one-time basis next fiscal year is the leading proposal. Including benefits for low-income households, the “return of revenue increases” would be on a scale of ¥5 trillion.

In contrast, Izumi called for economic measures totaling ¥7.6 trillion, including a proposal to provide a benefit of ¥30,000 per household to 60% of all households and the invocation of a “trigger clause” to reduce gasoline taxes.

What is the difference between a fixed amount of tax cuts and benefit payments, both only for one year, and what effect would each have? Discussion on these issues has been cursory.

Nobuyuki Baba, leader of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), called for lowering the consumption tax rate to 8% and reducing social insurance premiums for low-income earners or exempting them from payment. Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People, and Kazuo Shii, chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, both advocated reducing the consumption tax rate to 5%.

With high prices continuing, households are feeling an increasing burden. However, is it appropriate to implement lavish economic measures in the midst of a tight fiscal situation? It makes sense to focus on needy households.

If the ruling and opposition parties are calling for a policy of pork-barrel spending as they see the dissolution of the House of Representatives approaching, it cannot be called a policy debate.

How can the decline in population and the low birth rate be halted and national strength maintained? Is the government fully prepared to deal with the worsening security environment? The government and the ruling and opposition parties need to discuss these issues, which could be called national crises, in depth.

In light of the recent victory of an independent candidate supported by the CDPJ and the JCP in the by-election for the Tokushima-Kochi Constituency in the House of Councillors, Izumi and Shii confirmed that they would work together in the next lower house election.

The two by-elections, including one for Nagasaki Constituency No. 4 in the lower house, proved that if opposition parties unify their candidates, they can adequately compete with LDP candidates. However, when parties with different philosophies and basic policies cooperate with each other in an election to choose the governing party, they cannot avoid the criticism of an “unprincipled alliance of convenience.”

On the other hand, Hiroshige Seko, secretary general for the LDP in the upper house, complained to the prime minister in the question-and-answer session, saying, “I don’t understand what [the prime minister] is really trying to do.” Kishida should take seriously the fact that a sense of urgency about his administration is spreading even in the LDP.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 26, 2023)