The government has finished explaining the aims of the seven bills it has drafted and submitted to the Diet to carry out integrated tax and social security reform. During Lower House plenary sessions, it also answered some questions about these bills from the opposition parties.
Diet deliberations on these bills have made it clear that there are no fundamental differences between the blueprint for the reform drawn up by the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and the plan for overhauling the tax and social security systems developed by the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
In other words, the Noda administration has basically embraced almost all elements of the LDP's vision for tax and social security reform.
The LDP tried to highlight this fact when party member Ichiro Kamoshita recently asked during a Diet session, "Isn't it fair to say that (the DPJ-led government) has come around to our arguments (concerning the reform) after a lot of thinking (about related issues)?"
The government's bill to integrate the "kosei nenkin" employee pension program and the "kyosai nenkin" mutual aid pension plan for public servants is almost identical to a bill submitted by the government of the LDP-New Komeito coalition to the Diet in 2007.
The two parties' proposals concerning child-care support are also very similar.
With regard to the DPJ's proposal to consolidate kindergartens and day nurseries into "comprehensive" child-care centers, the LDP's Hiroshi Hase pointed out that it is almost a carbon copy of a report compiled by a study group of the LDP-New Komeito government. In response, Noda admitted that his administration's proposals for child-care support as a whole have been formulated "with respect for the arguments made since the LDP-New Komeito government."
As the nation's population continues aging with the number of children declining, people's work styles are also changing. All political parties in Japan are trying to propose a new social security system that can best meet the changing demands of the times.
The DPJ even recruited Kaoru Yosano, a Lower House lawmaker who designed the LDP-New Komeito government's plan for social security reform, as a minister in charge of the issue. It is hardly surprising that the two parties' programs are similar.
Before it came to power, the DPJ made some grand claims about its ability to offer better ideas about fixing the troubled social security system. It argued that it would be able to take bolder steps to reinvent the system than the measures proposed by the LDP-New Komeito government.
The DPJ said, for instance, it would reconsider budget allocations by putting the priority on the benefits for children and create a new public pension program featuring guaranteed minimum pension benefits.
The Noda administration's blueprint for integrated tax and social security reform, however, has ended up closely resembling the legislation drafted by the LDP-New Komeito regime.
The LDP is understandably angry about the fact that the DPJ was opposed to the similar LDP-New Komeito bills.
The Noda administration should candidly offer an apology for that.
It should focus its efforts on the realization of its integrated reform initiative while giving up its plan to submit legislation to establish a new pension system to the Diet next year.
It is now clear that the LDP's positions not only on the idea of raising the consumption tax but also on key social security issues are close to those of the administration, even though the main opposition party wants to stress its differences from the government over these issues.
The LDP should act swiftly to present its own proposal for social security reform and start talks with the ruling party for agreement.
The LDP is criticizing the DPJ's argument that all of society should take responsibility for child rearing by countering that families should be primarily responsible for rearing children.
But the LDP would probably agree that society as a whole should support families raising children. In its platform for the Lower House election in 2005, the LDP said, "Children should be raised by society."
If both the ruling camp and the LDP behave like adults and refrain from partisan bickering during Lower House committee sessions to consider the bills in the coming weeks, they will find much common ground and reach agreements on many key issues.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 12
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