A record 107 trillion-yen (about $935 billion) draft budget for fiscal 2022 was recently approved at a House of Representatives plenary session. Though the budget plan was the focus in the first half of the current Diet session, it was the second-fastest passage of a draft budget under Japan's postwar Constitution.
This is because deliberations are proceeding at the pace of the ruling parties. Smooth parliamentary operations should mean there's less obstacles in policy implementation, but the government's response to the coronavirus has nonetheless been slow.
The Budget Committee is a place for ruling and opposition parties to verify policies by asking questions and giving answers, and for the government to explain to the public via their responses. However, both sides lacked a sense of urgency, including responses by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Amid surging cases of the coronavirus's omicron variant, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) called for setting a target on the rollout of third booster vaccine shots, but the prime minister initially showed no interest in the idea. It was only about two weeks after the opposition parties raised questions that Kishida declared to administer 1 million doses per day.
The move to tackle the problem of some single-parent families being ineligible for the government's 100,000-yen (roughly $873) per child handout plan for all households with members aged 18 or under was also delayed.
The responses in all these cases were passive, with the ruling parties changing their policies only when they could no longer avoid criticism from opposition parties.
In his answers, the prime minister repeatedly said he "will consider" and "take matters seriously," and it is obvious that he wants to play it safe and get away with the situation. Such a stance, however, does not lead to deeper discussions.
Meanwhile, opposition parties were out of step and lacked strength. The CDP was worried about being seen as a party that "only criticizes," so much that it couldn't determine how to critique the government. There was even a scene in which a junior member of the Japan Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin) cheered on the prime minister when the former stood up to pose a question.
The Democratic Party for the People being in favor of the fiscal 2022 budget bill came as a surprise. Leader Yuichiro Tamaki explained that this was because he elicited a positive response from the prime minister over measures against high gasoline prices he proposed himself. But Kishida had only stated that he "will keep all options open."
All government policies will be backed by this budget. Along with the Diet nomination of the prime minister and a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet, it is an important bill that clarifies the attitude of each party. Agreeing to this is equivalent to declaring cooperation from outside the Cabinet.
Ahead of the House of Councillors election to be held this summer, opposition parties have not been able to form a united front. It appears that such dissonance is making the government and ruling parties become self-conceited. We would like to see tense debate in upper house budget deliberations.