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FAIRBANKS - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski found a receptive audience at her first town hall meeting on health care reform, with a crowd that largely agreed with her message that the health care system is bad but the cure might be worse.
The state's Republican senator said the health care system is a mess and needs to be fixed. But the current proposals, she said, would saddle future generations with tremendous debt and hurt small businesses.
Murkowski acknowledged that people are frustrated with an issue that drives about one-sixth of the nation's economy.
"This is too big to get wrong," she said, "and right now, I think we're going down the wrong track."
People filled the 384 seats in the Pioneer Park theater, where the forum was held, and another 150 sat in a nearby room with a live audio feed.
Though similar town-hall style meetings have turned into free-for-alls across the U.S., Thursday's gathering was less confrontational.
Murkowski took some preventive measures. Comments were cut off at two minutes, and signs and standing were banned.
Murkowski said her office has received more than 5,000 letters, e-mails and phone calls from constituents, with many concerned about the speed with which a health care plan is being devised. President Obama wants a plan on his desk by Oct. 15.
"I am not committed to an arbitrary date that will make somebody be able to check the box and say we've passed health care reform," Murkowski said.