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Obama Addresses Congress on Health-Care Reform

After a summer of setbacks, President Barack Obama summoned Congress to enact health care legislation Wednesday, declaring the 'time for bickering is over' and the moment has arrived to help millions who have insurance and more without it. Video by AP

The president plans to convene a Cabinet meeting Thursday, with the focus on health care, and will travel to Minneapolis on Saturday for a public rally.

His address in the House chamber was reminiscent of a speech on health-care reform that President Bill Clinton gave 16 years ago to a joint session of Congress, in which he implored lawmakers to write a "new chapter in the American story." Clinton's reform efforts eventually went down to defeat.

First lady Michelle Obama attended Wednesday night's speech, sitting with Americans who have struggled to keep or afford health care -- symbols, the White House said, of the system's disrepair. Also in the chamber were the relatives of the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who wrote shortly before his death that universal coverage was "the cause of my life."

Obama said he received a letter from Kennedy, delivered after his death, in which the senator wrote, "What we face is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

Before the president stepped to the podium, several Republicans declared themselves open to "common-sense reforms" but blasted what they expected to hear.

Afterward, delivering the Republican response, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (La.) said: "It's time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality." He added: "Replacing your family's current health care with government-run health care is not the answer. In fact, it'll make health care much more expensive."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele appeared to dismiss Obama's policy prescriptions, saying after the speech that "the president has proven his ability again to speak very well and say very little."

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