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2009年1月13日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 7(IHT/Asahi: January 8,2009)

EDITORIAL: Fixed amount handouts


Prime Minister Taro Aso described the government's 2-trillion-yen cash handout plan, which has been incorporated into the second supplementary budget bill, as "the best plan we've ever conceived."

In reality, however, it is one of the least favored government plans.


"This is about the most foolish stopgap policy ever," thundered Yukio Hatoyama, secretary-general of opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), during Tuesday's Diet interpellations by party representatives. "The (2 trillion yen spending) plan shouldn't be part of the second supplementary budget bill.

"The people's wishes will be best served if local governments are allowed to spend the money on health care, education, social welfare or whatever they see fit," Hatoyama said.

Minshuto and two other opposition parties promptly submitted an amendment bill to delete the 2 trillion yen spending plan from the supplementary budget.


But Aso stood his ground. "Some people are eagerly waiting for the handouts," he asserted. "I have no intention of removing the plan from the supplementary budget bill."


The prime minister is obviously aware that even if the opposition-controlled Upper House rejects the related bills needed to activate the cash handout plan, he can still take advantage of the so-called 60-day rule to later railroad the bills through the Lower House.


The economy is in dismal shape indeed, and, as Aso said, many people must be glad to receive a little extra cash--12,000 yen per person.


But 63 percent of respondents in an Asahi Shimbun poll said they thought this policy was unnecessary. A Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) survey found that 81 percent of respondents did not think the handouts would help the economy recover.


The handouts were initially meant as an election ploy to benefit the ruling coalition. But as things stand now, the plan may actually backfire.


Yoshimi Watanabe, a former minister in charge of administrative reform and a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, recently rebelled against the party. "If we are going to spend 2 trillion yen anyway, there are much better ways of using the money," Watanabe said, adding that he is prepared to resign from the LDP unless the prime minister kills the plan.

Watanabe's is not the only voice of dissent within the LDP.


Two trillion yen is roughly 10 times the Environment Ministry's annual budget and about the same as Aichi Prefecture's budget.


With the current economic crisis exacerbating the nation's fiscal problems, no amount of money is ever enough.


We suggest the government could perhaps distribute the 2 trillion yen among local governments and let them use the money to help jobless and other needy people tide over the situation or find employment.


Frankly, we cannot understand why the government is not spending the money to address the urgent needs of society, such as correcting the shortage of obstetricians, improving emergency medical services, and shoring up social welfare, particularly the nursing-care system.


For the government to spend this colossal amount of taxpayer money, the plan must definitely be in the interests of the people, not the prime minister.


We also must question New Komeito's position. The junior coalition partner pushed for the cash handout plan last summer, when household budgets were being hit hard by soaring prices of gasoline and food. But since the global financial crisis broke out, the situation has changed considerably.


Reinforcing society's safety net is the most urgent task now. As a party that has always focused on welfare, New Komeito must not hesitate to change its course now.


A leader in a time of crisis is required to react swiftly to the changing circumstances and make bold decisions. Aso should consider the opposition's proposal and eliminate the handout plan from the second supplementary budget bill. This will speed up passage of the bill.


After all, there is this old adage: "A wise man changes his mind, a fool never."



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