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Commentary: Health care debate turns nasty

  • Story Highlights
  • Jason Chaffetz: The public voted for change but not sweeping changes
  • He says Rep. Joe Wilson isn't a racist just because he disagrees with Obama
  • He says Democrats are making same mistakes GOP made when it held power
  • He says health care can be reformed without expanding government role
By Jason Chaffetz
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, represents the 3rd District of Utah in Congress and is appearing in's "Freshman Year" series, along with Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz says the public didn't vote for the kind of sweeping changes President Obama wants.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz says the public didn't vote for the kind of sweeping changes President Obama wants.

(CNN) -- Amid charges of incivility, lying and even racism, the health care debate has gotten nasty. Although many Americans voted for this president, they seem to have doubts about his health care ideas.

Since the election, the president's approval ratings have plummeted. The tone and substance of the debate has deteriorated. And the promise of bipartisanship has evaporated. The one success story has been the widespread participation in town hall meetings. But while people are actively participating in town halls in my district, most aren't there to support the president.

I ran for office in the same election as President Obama. I believe people genuinely wanted change. But it's a mistake to believe voters wanted a wholesale overhaul of America. What Americans wanted was a change in our approach. They wanted us to work together to tackle and solve important issues.

The change they got is something altogether different. Instead of the promised sweeping bipartisan change, we have gotten czars, earmarks, new bureaucracy and a ballooning deficit.

I'm a product of the change Americans demanded in 2008. Like President Obama, I promised a departure from the status quo. And like the president, I was rewarded by voters who had grown tired of politics as usual in Washington.

I, too, fight for change. But I believe Americans wanted us to address the threats to our system of government, not work to dismantle it. They wanted Democrats to do what Republicans had not -- cut spending, address corruption and listen to the American people.

Today, I see Democrats repeating the very same mistakes that cost Republicans their majority. Republicans lost their way because they didn't do what they said they would do. Democrats are now in the same unenviable position. What was promised has not been delivered.

Despite the rhetoric, there has not been a bipartisan approach to solve the challenges of health care. Republican Leader John Boehner has not been invited back to the White House since April. Instead of working together to solve this problem, Democrat leaders suggest that Republicans prefer to do nothing at all. To the contrary, Republicans have offered more than 40 bills related to health care.

Rather than bringing people together, those who run Washington have demeaned Americans for participating in the debate! House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls them un-American. The [resident dismisses their arguments as "bickering". Worst of all, the race card is being played in an attempt to shut down legitimate debate.

While I did not support Rep. Joe Wilson's decision to shout out during the president's address, I was appalled to hear him called a racist for daring to disagree with a black president. I know Joe Wilson. I had the privilege of visiting Iraq and Afghanistan with him. He is no racist.

He simply disagrees with the president's representations -- and I would suggest that the facts are on Wilson's side.

There is danger in interpreting an electoral victory as an open-ended mandate to enact any policy under the sun. Voters expect candidates to keep the promises they've made. We certainly didn't wake up and become a far-left nation on November 5. We remain a center-right nation loyal to the vision of our Founding Fathers.

There are solutions to our health care problems that do not require the kind of massive government intervention and spending now on the table. We haven't even seriously discussed those options, much less tried them. Yet we're being told that nothing short of a big expansion of government's role in health care will solve the problem.

Instead of pursuing a complete overhaul of our current system, I believe the American people want us to enact solutions that are consistent with the principles upon which this nation was founded. They want us to build on what works and solve those things that impede our ability to succeed in the future.

Rather than listening to the American people, Congress is signaling plans to press forward with a policy that the American people have loudly rejected. If they succeed, the tone of the debate will be the least of our concerns.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jason Chaffetz.

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