Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ruling Coalition and Opposition Work Together, Earn Passing Grade

The hard-copy Yomiuri gives regular updates on legislative activities. As of last week, 11 legislative bills that the Yomiuri considers important had been adopted, with eight more likely to make it by the 15 December deadline. Of the former, eight had been submitted by the Cabinet, of which five were passed unanimously, while three were adopted after the ruling coalition and the opposition parties agreed on a joint amendment. Of the three adopted bills submitted by Diet members, two were jointly submitted by the coalition and the opposition parties while the other was a joint proposal that unified bills submitted from both sides. Of the eight bills likely to be adopted, one, an amendment to the Broadcasting Act submitted by the Cabinet is likely to be adopted since the coalition agreed to alter a controversial article that would have enhanced the power of authorities to take action against a broadcasting station that aired false information. Of the other seven likely to be adopted, one will be jointly submitted by the coalition and the opposition parties while the other six are joint proposals unifying a couple of bills submitted from the two sides.

The Yomiuri report lists 10 other legislative bills (five Cabinet submissions, five Diet member submissions) still under consideration for which there is no likelihood of being adopted by 15 December. The refueling resumption bill is one of them. Since four other minor legislative bills* have also been adopted, the post-15 December supermajority override will bring the total of legislative bills adopted at this Diet session to at least 25.

It has become customary for the Diet to hold lengthy extraordinary/special Diet sessions after the summer hiatus following the regular Diet session. In fact, with another, more brief “Golden Week” interruption to the regular session, the legislative schedule looks increasingly like a two-semester school year with a brief spring break. So let’s see how the “twisted” Diet compares with its previous incarnations and issue grades.

In 2005, in the 42-day special Diet session (11 September-1 November) following Prime Minister Koizumi’s landslide victory in the Lower House general election, the Diet passed 28 legislative bills. Of this legislative total, seven were submitted by Diet members, of which five were submitted by committee chairmen. The last figure is significant, because a chairman submission appears to signify that there was at least some positive opposition input*. In 2006, an 84-day extraordinary Diet session (26 September-19 December) saw 25 legislative bills (as well as one treaty) adopted, of which 18 were Cabinet submissions and seven were Diet members submissions (including four committee chairmen submissions).

So the score is 2005 (Koizumi administration) 28, 2006 (Abe administration) 25, and 2007 (Fukuda administration) 25 minimum. Now the 2005 special Diet session did it in 42 days, and the 2007(-2008) extraordinary session is going to take 122 days (with the extension to 15 January), unless the DPJ decides that enough is enough and agrees to cut a deal. Moreover, there’s more to evaluating results than the number of legislative bills passed**. Still, making allowances for the time wasted by the Abe-Fukuda handoff and the Grand Coalition difficulties and the need to adjust to life under a “twisted” Diet, the current session appears to stack up quite nicely with comparative sessions from balmier days.

The real test will come in the regular session that convenes in the bottom half of January, particularly as the March 31 expiration date for so much time-limited legislation - most importantly special tax measures*** - approaches. But if the experience of this Diet session means anything, it is that, despite the contentiousness borne of the uncertainties of a divided house, including all the fuss about a censure motion and/or snap election, the ruling coalition and the opposition have worked to keep the legislative mill rolling. And the need to look reasonable and responsible in the public eye by convincing the media to see matters in that light is likely to keep it that way.

I do believe that the “twisted” Diet will make it more difficult to deal with the more serious questions concerning the long-term health of the nation, which I’ve briefly mentioned elsewhere. That, in fact, is why there is a good case to be made for a grand coalition. (No, not that Grand Coalition.) Still, the ruling coalition and the opposition do deserve passing grades for this lesser of the two semesters.

* I’d be happy to check this if someone paid me for doing it. Otherwise, you’ll have to do it yourself, or accept my educated guess.

** By law, salaries of public servants in four categories require annual adjustments by separate legislation. Housekeeping matters of the Diet sometimes require legislative action, further inflating the number of bills passed in any given session.

*** The loss of gasoline surtaxes alone could reduce the public take by a trillion yen more or less.


Anonymous said...

Jun, I found this posting useful. I also think there is a good case for a grand coalition. t

Jun Okumura said...

Thank you, t. You are always kind. I do try to bring facts to the debate, so the word "useful" is particularly appreciated here.

The downside of a piecemeal approach to collaboration across the aisle is that the two sides can easily wind up competing to bribe us with our money*. Case in point: Most recently, the LDP has reportedly shifted its position on agriculture subsidies to accomodate small-lot and over-65farmers, both of which categories are currently ineligible. A grand coalition makes it easier to share all the credit and the blame within a broad range of measures in a comprehensive policy package. At least that's my idea.

*I should trademark this.