Monday, August 02, 2010

Meet Me in the Budget Committee

Today Prime Minister Kan Naoto and the rest of his Cabinet will face their first Budget Committee questioning siince Kan took office in June. Four the next four days, first on Monday and Tuesday in House of Representatives, then Wednesday and Thursday in the Houses of Councillors, the PM and his ministers will face a battery of questions, most of which will have only the most vaguely discernible connection to the budget. The initial questions will not be hostile ones, as they will be coming from members of the Democratic Party of Japan. The chances of these questions making the evening news or being quoted in the newspapers are close to nil. It will be in the afternoon, when Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu, LDP Policy Research Council President Ishiba Shigeru and others get take their shots at the PM and his party that the media-worthy fireworks are likely to take place.

The PM is caught between a rock and a hard place in this question-and-answer session. Stuck in a position where no reasonable combination of the existing parties can be cobbled together to form a majority in the House of Councillors, he and his Cabinet have an incentive to appear conciliatory to the opposition, in the hopes of cajoling oppositions parties or even individual members of opposition parties into cooperating with the government on certain bills. This will mean jettisoning some of the party's stated aims and even swallowing whole some opposition bills seemingly in contradiction with promises made in the DPJ's 2009 manifesto. At the same time, the PM has the opportunistic and hungry members of his own party, mostly acolytes of former party secretary-general Ozawa Ichiro, who will expect him to defend the items in the party's 2009 manifesto tooth and nail -- for it is their view that the loss in the House of Councillors election was due to the Kan Administration's repudiation of its promises, overly numerous and unrealistic as they may have been. With the September party election just over the horizon, the PM cannot appear supine before the opposition, if he wishes to win over the party members in the local chapters and the DPJ assembly members in the nation's municipal and prefectural assemblies.

Knowing of the tough balancing act the PM faces, LDP Secretary-General Oshima Tadamori told the Sunday morning talk shows that his party will home in on the parts of the 2009 manifesto that the country clearly cannot afford or that the DPJ has no possibility of enacting, asking the PM whether he really believes in the manifesto's detailed items or not.

The opposition questioners will likely try to pin the PM down on a mass of other issues, such as his statements about raising the consumption tax as a part of a plan to bolster the country's fiscal position and the probable extensive delays in the implementation of the May accord on moving the Futenma Marine Corps Airbase to a new site off Henoko (the papers have just published yet another plan of how the new runway might be constructed). The Komeito has indicated will waste its time on examining the office expense accounts of Minister for National Strategy Arai Satoshi ("So these comic books expensed to your office, were they...salacious?"). While it seemed for a while there were going to be questions about the ability of Justice Minister Chiba Keiko to direct her ministry after her loss of her Diet seat the July election. Chiba's having ordered then witnessed in person (the first Justice Minister to do so) the execution of two death row inmates on July 28, despite her personal opposition to the death penalty, probably has knocked the wind out of anyone who may have been planning to question Chiba's ability to make tough decisions and issue tough directives.

None of these issues will be as difficult for the PM and his ministers to handle, however, as the fundamental contradiction in the present DPJ -- that it is run by persons who believe in the politics of reality, of the feasible and the functional -- who hold their majority in the House of Representatives and thus control the government based upon Ozawa Ichiro's politics of unreality, where there are no limits to the promises one can issue, because there will be no day of reckoning -- a politics of winning elections, not of running a country.

Well, the days of reckoning start today -- and it will take all of Kan Naoto's considerable political smarts to stay out of the line of fire when Ozawa Ichiro has been providing the opposition with the ammunition.

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