Since Sunday the government of this blessed land has been operating without a budget, an embarrassing state of affairs which happens from time to time (the last time was 14 years ago). For reasons that escape me for the moment, the Democratic Party of Japan's floor leaders managed to demonstrate an alarming inability to count backwards 30 days from April 1, alarming in that it is both simple to do and also reminiscent of the inability of the floor leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan to count backwards 60 days during that party's final years in power.
With the budget bill set to become law today thanks to the 30 day rule written into Article 60 of the Constitution (seemingly the only article of the Constitution that is worth a damn), the opposition-dominated House of Councillors, ever ready to prove itself more than just a place to take a good nap, roused itself yesterday to vote the budget down. This triggered the rigmarole of the formation of a joint committee of both Houses which, amazingly, after long minutes of hard bargaining, found itself in an irreconcilable deadlock on the bill, meaning that the budget bill automatically became law.
On the surface, the 2012 budget is smaller than the 2011 budget, the first year-on-year nominal drop in six years. Add on all the special accounting for the recovery and reconstruction efforts resulting from the triple disaster of 3/11, however, and the budget is the largest ever. (J)
Just getting the budget passed is not much to write home about. The hurdle is the budget enabling legislation (yosan kanren hoan), primarily the approval of the issuance of bonds to pay for the items in the budget. With all the attention that has been focused on the bill raising the consumption tax, which is the sexier story due to the internecine battle it has spawned inside the DPJ, the Diet fight over the enabling legislation has been ignored.
However, passage of the enabling legislation is the real make-or-break fight for the Noda government. Last year Prime Minister Kan Naoto, in a fantastic bit of legerdemain, forced the LDP and the New Komeito to vote for the enabling legislation by threatening that if they did not, he would not resign as prime minister*. Prime Minister Noda, who has no intention of resigning, will have to find his own lever for prying a "Yes" vote from out of the hands of the LDP and the New Komeito.
One of the strategies proposed is keeping the Diet in extended session until the opposition parties just give up. I am not sure how the incentives are supposed to work here, unless the plan is to freak out Tanigaki Sadakazu over his trying to win reelection as LDP President whilst leading his party in a do nothing strike in the Diet, obstreperous behavior that will earn the LDP a serious lashing by the mainstream press (all except by the Nippon Terebi network, which has proven to be even more pro-LDP than its owner the Yomiuri Shimbun). The Diet session is going to be extended anyway due to the number of controversial bills the government has submitted for Diet approval (J). In terms of atmospherics, it will be difficult to disentangle which part of the extension is being carried out in order to complete Diet business and which is meant to drive the opposition parties nuts.
Working out a quid pro quo between the ruling coalition** and the opposition parties would be an option, if this blessed land's political classes could consider Houses of the Diet being controlled by different parties a natural state of affairs. However, the political classes are united in considering such a division unnatural, calling it a "twisted Diet" (nejire kokkai). The quid that the opposition parties want the ruling coalition to pro quo is a dissolution of the Diet in return for a yes vote on the enabling legislation and the bill raising the consumption tax. Since the DPJ is neither suicidal (assuming recent poll numbers are correct, the party would be demolished were elections held this summer) nor unaware that the current Diet district seat apportionment system is unconstitutional, the LDP and the New Komeito are making offers that the DPJ can do nothing but refuse.
So the stage is set for a lengthy stalemate.
Whatever the supercomputers of the Japan Meteorological Agency may be predicting, it is going to be a hot, hot summer.
* The essay is "Kan Won" in Reconstructing 3/11: Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown - how Japan's future depends on its understanding of the 2011 triple disaster available from Amazon.com. (Link)
** Yesterday, Shimoji Mikio, the erstwhile secretary-general of the possibly still extant People's New Party ostensibly fired his superior, Kamei Shizuka, replacing him with Financial Services Minister Jimi Shozaburo (J). Kamei, as one can imagine, does not accept his being fired by his subordinate. At present we seem to have two PNPs: one composed of Kamei and his distant relative, the other of the six MPs who say that the PNP has not withdrawn from the ruling coalition.
Later - Critical minds think in parallel: today's Tokyo Shimbun has a lead editorial on the above subject. (J)
The Tokyo Shimbun's editors seem to be of the opinion that it is worthwhile to remind the legislators that ultimately it is the citizens who will be deciding their political futures. Somehow this reality, of which the legislators have heretofore been seemingly been ignorant, will entice them into turning away from their petty, immediate obsessions and instead stir them to provide leadership for the country.
While the editors are at it, they might as well wish for ponies for everyone as well.