America’s future wavers on a fundamental debate of a big versus small government hand, said Congressman Tom Cole, R-Okla., during a town hall meeting of more than 200 constituents in Norman Wednesday evening.

“It’s a question of do you want one that’s substantially larger forever,” Cole said, following the passing of the health care bill, which he didn’t support, citing its economic flaws. “This is not an emergency. Health care didn’t stumble us into a recession.”

Cole defended his vote against the bill by saying his No. 1 concern was the cost, which he said the United States can’t afford as health care expands. He said the government needs to find an efficient way to slow the cost of growth, which it hasn’t done.

Cole also said he cast a nay vote against the encroaching bureaucracy of government influence written within the 227-page bill.

“You can bet there are going to be surprises. You can’t write a 227-page bill without consequences,” he said of the partisan bill struck by bipartisan opposition.

Barbara Richardson, a Realtor with Don Cies in Norman, spoke of her anger about the underhand “special” deals in the Senate to push the health care bill through, adding that Congress wouldn’t even put itself on the plan.

“Oh yes it did,” Cole said. “Believe me. I’m not for this thing. It’s there.”

Still others, like Bob Vernon of Norman, questioned what would be the tipping point for Americans between the philosophical debate between those favoring big government and others vying for small.

“From this crowd, you can tell which we think is better,” Vernon said of the cheering that erupted for small government policies.

Cole cited the tea parties — a grassroots response to government spending — as an example of the waning public sentiment for a strong government hold, adding that the movement, which boiled over last year and still simmers, wasn’t Washington-originated.

Steve Goodenow of Norman, who had never been to a town hall meeting before Wednesday’s, said that while the meeting didn’t overflow with details of the inner workings of Washington, it gave him insight into Cole’s diagnosis of Congress, which Cole said is exhausted and just as grim as anticipated.

“We have to have faith in two things: the institutions of the U.S. and the American people,” Cole said. “And then participate and it’ll all work out.”

Nanette Light once served as an intern with Rep. Cole.

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