Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda asked Ichiro Ozawa, former head of the Democratic Party of Japan, to support his proposal to raise the consumption tax during their 90-minute meeting on May 30.
But Ozawa made clear his opposition to Noda’s bid to pass the tax hike bill during the current Diet session. “There are things that should be done before such a massive tax increase,” the ruling party heavyweight said to Noda.
The disappointing results of the talks, in which the two politicians failed to narrow their differences over the issue, have left no doubt that Noda should pursue a new strategy for the legislation instead of seeking the approval of Ozawa, who is only a “rank-and-file” member of the party.
Two years and nine months after the DPJ came to power in a dramatic regime change, the government’s policy-making machinery remains miserably out of gear due to its inability to move things forward and make necessary decisions. Now, the government should start taking effective steps to get the ball rolling.
In order to do so, the Noda administration should display a willingness to make necessary political concessions and sincerely seek talks with the opposition parties, especially the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, for a bipartisan agreement to revise and pass the consumption tax bill.
During his meeting with Ozawa, Noda solicited his cooperation for the initiative, saying a consumption tax hike is urgently needed. Noda pointed out that the social security burden and benefits should be shared equally among generations and added that the nation’s public finances are in dire straits.
We share the prime minister’s sense of crisis about the situation.
This is about integrated tax and social security reform, a key policy challenge that has huge and direct implications for the nation’s future.
We agree that the legislation is best enacted with unanimous support by the ruling party based on a reconciliation between the opposing groups within the party, if that is possible.
But Ozawa based his objection to the proposal on key planks of the DPJ’s manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election, which led to the party’s ascent to power.
The DPJ pledged to radically reform the way the nation is governed and to finance its policy proposals with the savings from exhaustive efforts to eliminate wasteful spending, Ozawa pointed out. But the party has yet to start serious efforts to deliver on this promise, he argued.
Indeed, the DPJ’s election manifesto is in tatters.
But Ozawa is making a totally irrational argument by saying that the government should not embark on raising taxes or reforming the social security system because the ruling party has failed to carry out its election promises.
Why has the DPJ made so little progress on its policy commitments? The party appears to have failed to make serious political efforts to move gradually but steadily toward policy goals, taking one step at a time.
The Diet deliberations so far during the current session have underscored the impressive fact that the two major parties have very similar positions on many policy issues. They include not only the increase in the consumption tax rate to 10 percent, but also the integration of the employee pension program and the mutual aid pension program for public servants and the shortening of the minimum period of premium payments to become eligible for national pension benefits.
Fearing that a vote on the consumption tax bill could prompt Ozawa to bolt from the party with his followers, some DPJ lawmakers are calling for carrying the bill over to the next session or postponing the vote through a large extension of the current session.
But such an approach would only perpetuate the paralysis of policymaking due to the ruling camp’s inability to make gutsy political decisions.
Only three weeks are left until the end of the current Diet session. The legislature should have exhaustive debate on important bills and duly pass into law those on which a bipartisan agreement has been reached.
Noda should accept the LDP’s proposal to set up “national councils” with experts among the members to discuss policies on which the ruling and opposition parties have failed to agree.
If such efforts of the Noda administration to push through its policy initiatives prompt Ozawa to leave the DPJ, so be it.
It is clearly time for Noda to become prepared to do whatever he needs to do to achieve his key policy goal.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 31
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