After the win in Congress, Democrats' healthcare bill is to face a difficult path in the Senate amid divisions in his own Democratic Party on how to proceed.
On a 220-215 vote, including the support of one Republican and opposition from 39 Democrats, the House backed a bill late on Saturday that would expand coverage to nearly all Americans and bar insurance practices such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The battle now shifts to the Senate, where work on Obama's top domestic priority has been stalled for weeks as Democratic leader Harry Reid searches for an approach that can win the 60 votes he needs to overcome Republican procedural hurdles.
"Take this baton and bring this effort to the finish line," Obama urged senators on Sunday in an appearance at the White House, saying passage of healthcare reform would represent "their finest moment in public service," The Associated Press reports.
In the meantime, a year ago, rising health-care costs were at the top of voters' worries; now, with unemployment in double digits, jobs are paramount. "It's an historic accomplishment, but I'm not sure it's consistent of the public mood," said Vin Weber, a Republican strategist, said of the House health-care bill.
A sign of the shift is that Obama and Democratic leaders have had to lean so hard on Democrats to take a vote many saw as fraught with political risks rather than rewards.
"Given the heated and often misleading rhetoric surrounding this legislation, I know that this was a courageous vote for many members of Congress," Obama said yesterday, "and I'm grateful to them and for the rest of their colleagues for taking us this far. "Now it falls on the United States Senate to take this baton and bring this effort over the finish line."
That line may not be crossed as soon as Democrats had hoped. It looks likely that a bill will not be ready for Obama to sign until after the New Year holiday. "It's too bad the president has to spend all this time trying to rustle up votes within his own party," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). "But I honestly believe the House vote gives us momentum that Senator Reid is going to use when he talks to his colleagues this week," Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The House bill includes a different version of the public option than the Senate. Senate Democrats also may not adopt the House bill's requirement that all but the smallest employers offer coverage to their workers and its new tax on the wealthiest Americans to pay for the reforms.
Eventually, the House and Senate would have to reconcile their differences and agree on one bill to be passed again and sent to Obama for his signature.
"The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on CBS's "Face the Nation," calling it "a bill written by liberals for liberals."
The House bill would set up exchanges where people could choose to purchase private insurance or a government-run option bitterly opposed by the insurance industry. It also would offer subsidies to help low-income Americans buy insurance.
Congressional budget analysts say it would extend coverage to 36 million uninsured people living in the United States, covering about 96 percent of the population, and would reduce the budget deficit by about $100 billion over 10 years, Reuters reports.