The debate over proposed cuts to the safety net is more than a discussion about how much our society should help seniors, the disabled, the poor, and the afflicted. It is a debate over the type of nation we want to be. Are we a nation that supports its people, provides protection against corruption, and attempts to create a level playing field to foster fair competition, or a nation where the old and infirm are not provided enough for basic necessities and children unfortunate to be born into dysfunctional families are refused the help they deserve?

To understand why this debate speaks to our country's soul, it is important to understand that the safety net is a combination of programs that helps almost all of us.  It provides for those who have fallen on hard times, such as Social Security payments to families who have lost a wage earner.  The safety net provides health care for people who would otherwise be ineligible, and provides a lifeline for those with disabling illnesses.

The safety net is Social Security and Medicare, which provide seniors with a return on the investments they made in our country and the payments they made into the Social Security system. It is a victim's crime compensation fund that helps crime victims.  It's a pension fund that protects workers against having their pensions stolen. It is prosecutors who prosecute stockbrokers, investment counselors, and insurance agents who sell worthless products and cheat people out of their life savings. The safety net is protection against corporations selling poisonous food and unsafe products. It is the environmental agencies that protect our water, air, and the soil where our food grows.

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Yes, it is also unemployment compensation, affordable health care, SNAP (food stamps), and even help paying utility bills for those who don't make enough to keep the heat, lights, and water on.

In addition, the safety net enables Americans to take entrepreneurial risks — to start small businesses, to work for start-up companies, to take a chance and perhaps fail without fear of losing everything. These programs have been developed over the last 100 years to help people build America.

From the time of Teddy Roosevelt until now, most people have known that if we want to create a society that supports competition, we have to realize that there will be winners and losers. Those who fall on hard times, whose businesses fail, who don't get the better paying job, who get injured on the job, have all played a role by competing and spurring winning companies on. Those who advocate for a fully funded safety net recognize that we all help in building America, including those who don't make it to the top.

Cutting the safety net by a third or more, as President Trump and Republican Party leaders have recommended, would profoundly change our nation. No longer will we be encouraging people to take risks for the sake of innovation. We could no longer be assured that the food we buy is safe or the air we breathe and the water we drink is clean. We would be creating a winner-take-all society, where there is no help for anyone who slips and falls and needs a hand getting back up.

To maintain our nation's civility and our collective soul, we must reject the cynical ploys of cutting corporate taxes while saying there is not enough money in the federal budget to care for people in need. Giving people a second chance is a bedrock belief of Americans.  We need a safety net to catch all who stumble, to create a level playing field, to help children born into dysfunctional families, and ensure our seniors can live with dignity in their final years.  We can only have that by making sure we vote for candidates who pledge to save it.

Lance Haver is a long-time consumer advocate and currently the policy director of Pennsylvania's Save Our Safety Net coalition.  His email is Lance@LanceHaver.com