Leon E. PanettaApril 28, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump is seen at the White House in Washington, April 19. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

What makes America great? For many, the preamble to our Constitution demonstrates our nation’s strengths: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

These values, supported by our elected leadership, our national defense and our diplomacy, are what constitute the national security of our nation.

In 2017, all of this is being tested by a dangerous and unpredictable world and a divisive and partisan politics that is more consumed with protecting power than protecting our values. We are facing crises in countries such as Syria, North Korea and Russia, as well as issues from terrorism to nuclear proliferation.

The American people have endured over 16 years of war and a deep recession that has taken a toll on our national pride.

Historically, the United States has not hesitated. We have exercised strong world leadership by working with our allies, built new partnerships and strengthened both our military and diplomatic capabilities to defend vital national interests.

But times have changed. The American people have endured over 16 years of war and a deep recession that has taken a toll on our national pride. The reality is that if the United States does not provide world leadership, no one else will. As President Donald J. Trump is discovering, the world is a complicated place, and it is our security that will be threatened if we ignore the critical issues in the world.

Mr. Trump's proposed budget shows that he does not fully understand what makes America strong. His budget increases defense spending by $54 billion while drastically cutting programs that serve the most vulnerable in our society, like Meals on Wheels and health research. He is also proposing a 29 percent cut in State Department funding for development and diplomacy, peace-building and conflict prevention. Mr. Trump’s budget provides a boost to “our common defense” at the price of cutting support for “the general welfare.” Our strength depends on both.

We have a record national debt of $20 trillion.

While it is not likely that Congress will support the Trump budget, it is also unlikely that the president and Congress will work together to resolve any of the serious issues facing the nation.

The continuing political dysfunction in Washington is the greatest threat to our national security. We cannot have a nation that meets our responsibility to defend our security and promote the general welfare without a president and Congress willing to work together to govern our democracy.

We have a record national debt of $20 trillion, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that if nothing is done, the debt will double from 77 percent of our gross domestic product to 150 percent in three decades. We need a comprehensive budget agreement that effectively reduces the debt over the next five to 10 years. To do that requires a defense budget that invests in cutting-edge technologies but also finds savings in procurement, compensation and efficiencies; a nondefense budget that funds priorities like foreign aid, infrastructure and critical safety net programs but also eliminates duplicative regulations and bureaucracy; and a budget that controls costs on entitlement programs and provides new revenues as part of tax reform. During the 1980s and 1990s, I participated in bipartisan comprehensive budget agreements that did exactly that. The result was a balanced budget, a growing economy and a secure America.

Throughout our history, we have found the leadership willing to take the risks necessary to deal with crises like world wars and recessions. The real strength of America lies not just in Washington but in the spirit, resilience, courage and common sense of the American people. I have seen these values in the men and women in uniform who serve this nation and are willing to fight and die for their country.

If there are brave warriors willing to give their lives for our country, the elected leadership should be able to embrace a little of that same courage in order to govern the nation and protect all of the values that make America strong.

Correction, June 2, 2017: A prior version of this article contained a misquotation.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Connie Diamond
4 years ago

I believe the last line of the first paragraph should read " to ourselves and our Posterity" not Prosperity.

Eloise Blondiau
4 years ago

Thanks for catching the mistake; we’ve fixed it now.

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