HillCast

LISTEN: From Russia to red ink — Panetta and Panetta

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta this week said Russia is an ongoing threat to the United States because the Kremlin believes the Trump administration "is not going to stand in their way."

"I think we simply have to make clear to the Russians that there are lines that we are not going to allow them to cross, and I don't think that's been clear enough yet," he told The Hill's Power Politics podcast on Tuesday.     

 

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Power Politics also sat down this week with Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D), who represents the coastal California communities his father also served for eight terms in the House.

Both Panettas - the current congressman is the son of the former, who also worked in the Nixon, Clinton and Obama administrations - expressed concern with what they say are top national security issues: President Trump's rhetoric toward North Korea and rising national debt.

The senior Panetta drew on his discussions with the South Koreans when he was Defense secretary in his discussion with The Hill.

The congressman, elected in 2016, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a veteran of the U.S. Navy Reserves who was deployed to Afghanistan for a year working in intelligence. He supports a House measure that would bar the president from ordering a nuclear first-strike without a congressional declaration of war.

Leon Panetta, now 79, said he believes a diplomatic approach that extends economic aid to North Korea in exchange for gradual denuclearization could gain traction.

"In order for that to happen, they have to be at the table," he noted. "And that hasn't happened yet."  

The congressman and the former secretary separately voiced another shared worry about exploding U.S. national debt.

Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, this week called the situation a "dire threat" to national security. Leon Panetta, who helped former President Clinton achieve a balanced budget and surpluses in the late 1990s, said he agreed.

On Capitol Hill, the congressman Panetta said he opposed the recent two-year budget framework, which included $300 billion in new spending and approval to finance the government's balance sheet with more borrowing through March 2019.

"There were some good things in that budget, no doubt about that," he added, "but the question that needed to be asked, and was asked but never answered was, `how in the heck are you going to pay for it?' " 

Leon Panetta's voice rose when he described the nation's fiscal problems. He identified what he called a "tough" but necessary solution: a five-year budget inked by Trump and Congress that gradually unwinds deficits and debt, to include investment priorities and enforceable provisions to keep discipline in place.

The two parties must make changes to federal entitlements, raise taxes, and re-adjust spending levels for defense and nondefense programs, the former secretary said, ignoring the obvious hurdles.

"Otherwise, mark my words, this is going to blow on us," the senior Panetta said.

Power Politics, hosted by The Hill's Alexis Simendinger, airs Saturday mornings. 

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