"For years we've been told that this couldn't be done," Obama said in a brief statement from the Rose Garden. "But last night the House proved different."
The Democratic-controlled House on Saturday narrowly passed the far-reaching legislation, 220-215, but the road ahead in the Senate promises to be rocky. The president said the House vote took courage for many lawmakers because of the heated and often misleading rhetoric that accompanied debate over how the change the system.
"Now it falls on the United States Senate to take the baton and bring this effort to the finish line on behalf of the American people, and I'm absolutely confident that they will," Obama said. "I'm equally convinced that on the day that we gather here at the White House and I sign comprehensive health insurance reform legislation into law, they'll be able to join their House colleagues and say this was their finest moment in public service."
Republican lawmakers have vowed to do all they can to stop the Democratic plan, which they contend will cost jobs, raise insurance rates and lead to huge tax increases. The Senate has yet to schedule debate on its version of health care reform.
There were many House representatives who did not vote for the bill, including Illinois 6th District Republican Congressman Peter Roskam.
"Health care costs are going to rise as a result of the bill. I think the bill is tone deaf. I don't think it's going anywhere in the Senate. That's not to say we don't need reform, because clearly, we do," Roskam told ABC7 Chicago.
"The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday. "It was a bill written by liberals for liberals." A Democratic colleague, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, predicted an overhaul would pass the Senate because "it's essential" to the country's economic success and people's quality of life. "It will take time," he added.
House Republicans were nearly unanimous in opposing the plan that would expand coverage to tens of millions of Americans and place tough new restrictions on the insurance industry.
A triumphant House Speaker Nancy Pelosi compared the legislation to the passage of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare 30 years later.
Republicans detailed their objections across hours of debate on the 1,990-page, $1.2 trillion legislation.
"We are going to have a complete government takeover of our health care system faster than you can say, `this is making me sick,"' said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich.
In the run-up to a final vote, conservatives from the two political parties joined forces to impose tough new restrictions on abortion coverage in insurance policies to be sold to many individuals and small groups.
The legislation would require most Americans to carry insurance and provide federal subsidies to those who otherwise could not afford it. Large companies would have to offer coverage to their employees. Both consumers and companies would be slapped with penalties if they defied the government's mandates.
Insurance industry practices such as denying coverage because of medical conditions would be banned, and insurers would no longer be able to charge higher premiums on the basis of gender or medical history. The industry would also lose its exemption from federal antitrust restrictions on price fixing and market allocation.
At its core, the measure would create a federally regulated marketplace where consumers could shop for coverage. In the bill's most controversial provision, the government would sell insurance, although the Congressional Budget Office forecasts that premiums for it would be more expensive than for policies sold by private companies.
Graham said he thinks the government option "will destroy private health care. Nobody in this country in the insurance business can compete with a government-sponsored plan, where the government writes the benefits and politicians will never raise the premiums."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said that "if the public option plan is in there, as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote because I believe the debt can break America and send us into a recession that's worse than the one we're fighting our way out of today."
The House bill drew the votes of 219 Democrats and Rep. Joseph Cao, a first-term Republican who holds an overwhelmingly Democratic seat in New Orleans. Opposed were 176 Republicans and 39 Democrats.
From the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada issued a statement saying, "We realize the strong will for reform that exists, and we are energized that we stand closer than ever to reforming our broken health insurance system."
To pay for the expansion of coverage, the bill cuts Medicare's projected spending by more than $400 billion over a decade. It also imposes a tax surcharge of 5.4 percent on income over $500,000 in the case of individuals and $1 million for families.
Dr. Joseph Flaherty, dean of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, strongly supports reform. However, he also is worried about how bill will be payed for.
"I'm optimistic. We have something started that seemed impossible, and certainly, seemed it would not happen this year. So, I give the Congress credit for moving it forward," he said.
Graham and Reed were on CBS' "Face the Nation." Lieberman appeared on "Fox News Sunday."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)