Japan's House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a record 114.38 trillion yen ($840 billion) budget for fiscal 2023, making its enactment certain before the new fiscal year starts in April as the nation faces a cost of living crisis and security threats from its neighbors.
The state budget includes 6.82 trillion yen in defense spending to bolster its defenses against threats posed by China, North Korea and Russia and 36.89 trillion yen in social security costs, the largest ever, amid the rapid graying of Japan's population.
Following approval by the lower house, the House of Councillors will start its deliberations, but the upper chamber's approval is not a must. The budget automatically takes effect 30 days after it is sent to the upper house.
Fiscal 2023 is the first year of a five-year defense buildup program adopted late last year by the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that is projected to cost 43 trillion yen, a more than 50 percent increase from the current five-year plan.
The government will use non-tax revenue to fund the record defense spending for the year from April and plans to secure necessary funds by increasing corporate, income and tobacco taxes from fiscal 2024 or later, with details on the exact timing yet to be worked out.
Opposition party lawmakers have been urging Kishida to explain why Japan needs to fundamentally bolster its defense capabilities and increase necessary spending by imposing higher taxes. The buildup plan includes buying 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States as part of its efforts to acquire "counterstrike capabilities."
In recent days, Kishida, who is scrambling to shore up his falling popularity, has come under fire for his remark in parliament that the government would double its child care budget, now at 2 percent of gross domestic product. Facing questions about how to fund the increase, the government has since toned down the pledge.
Japan's fiscal state is in dire straits, with debt more than twice the size of its economy. A record tax revenue of 69.44 trillion yen is estimated for fiscal 2023, but the government needs to issue government bonds worth 35.62 trillion yen to fund the state budget.
The powerful lower house is controlled by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its smaller partner Komeito.
The Democratic Party for the People, an opposition party, has decided not to support the latest budget, citing its opposition to the government's tax hike plan to increase defense spending as one of the reasons. The decision is an about-face from last year when it endorsed the fiscal 2022 budget, a move criticized by other opposition parties as cozying up to the ruling parties.