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Slaughter tells of worry for families Says amid threats, bigger concern was for revisions

Jammed phones and threats that poured into Rep. Louise M. Slaughter's offices in the days leading up to the passage of landmark health care legislation this week made people "concerned for their families," the Fairport Democrat told supporters outside her district office in Niagara Falls on Friday.

But what Slaughter said really worried her this week was that a package of final revisions to the health care reform bill was left in the hands of the Senate.

"There's no question this is the most important legislation in 30 years," Slaughter said. "And I think people will come to realize that."

The Senate passed the revisions Thursday. Slaughter said she wasn't sure from "one day to the next" whether the health care legislation could get through Congress.

Fresh off a plane from Washington, Slaughter spoke on the steps of her Pine Avenue district office, where a piece of plywood still covered the spot where someone threw a brick through one of her windows during the heat of the health care debate.

She condemned the act of vandalism, which was the first of several similar incidents across the country this week.

"If we're going back 40 years -- and I hope to heaven we are not -- in the way we treat each other, we have got to stamp that out right now," she said. "Last Sunday, probably one of the most beautiful days the Lord has made, was really destroyed for all of us by the actions that took place on the Capitol grounds."

Slaughter said Sunday was the first time she had seen protesters come right up to the Capitol and said she was disappointed that some of her colleagues used microphones to egg on people yelling, "Kill the bill."

Slaughter, however, said her greatest concern was that the Senate would block a reconciliation bill that contained final revisions to the health care legislation.

"As part of the leadership, we were in every day on the count and where it was going and how it was going," she said. "But I think our major worry was the Senate. We sent 290 bills over to the Senate that they haven't touched."

Slaughter said she deplored actions like the brick that was thrown through her window last week and threatening phone calls made to her three district offices. Jammed phone lines, she said, prevented staffers from getting work done for days.

One woman told a staff member during a phone call that "Louise Slaughter should be hung," the congresswoman said.

"People were afraid, they were scared," Slaughter said. "You know, I don't want to keep exaggerating, because I'm not afraid, and a lot of our people weren't, but they were concerned for their families, but not for themselves."

Slaughter used the afternoon news conference to thank local and federal law enforcement officials investigating the brick-throwing incident. Two staff members who work in Slaughter's Pine Avenue office arrived the morning of March 19 to find a smashed window and a piece of brick.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster, one of several Falls Democrats to crowd into her Pine Avenue office Friday afternoon, said whoever threw the brick "did not speak for the vast majority of the people."

Another brick was tossed through the window of a Monroe County Democratic Party office in Rochester over the weekend with a note that read, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."

Slaughter said she was troubled by the tone the national health care debate had taken in recent days.

"The great icon of civil rights, John Lewis, was harassed by people with very petty and small minds," Slaughter said. "What I saw coming out that day was not even concern particularly about health care."

Slaughter, 80, said it was not the first time she had seen such actions in her career.

"I know what it was," Slaughter continued, "I've seen it before, but we have to make absolutely certain that America is better than that."

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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