Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama says the health care bill he is pushing through Congress will be "a victory for dignity and decency for our common humanity."
"This will be a victory for the United States of America," Obama told a service at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church on Sunday, a day before a national holiday honoring slain civil rights icon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King spoke at the same church in 1956, at a time of change and uncertainty in the United States following a court order that ended busing segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, Obama noted.
Comparing the challenges of that era to today, Obama acknowledged that he sometimes got frustrated at the slow pace of change since his inauguration a year earlier as the nation's first African-American president.
Recalling the hopes that "life would be better from the moment I swore that oath," Obama said, "We know the promise of that moment has not been fully filled."
Invoking King's non-violent struggle against racial discrimination, Obama called on people to recognize progress as steps toward a goal instead of demanding achievement of the entire goal all at once.
"Sometimes I get a little frustrated when folks don't want to see that even if we don't get everything, we're getting something," Obama said in apparent reference to the health care debate.
Democrats faced with near-unanimous Republican opposition are negotiating a final health care bill that will lack some of the provisions championed by Obama's liberal base. Some Democrats have criticized the effort as inadequate, and Obama seemed to be addressing those concerns.
Taking on Republican criticism that the roughly $900 billion bill to overhaul the nation's health care system would cause more harm than good, Obama said the measure would make the United States a better nation by helping to care for those unable to get health insurance now.
"It will be a victory for dignity and decency for our common humanity," he said to applause from the mostly African-American congregation.
Obama also called for helping America's workers facing high unemployment in the recession, and for fighting discrimination "in all forms," including injustice against gays and lesbians.
Change requires sacrifice, Obama said, whether it is making the transition to a green energy economy, overhauling health care or finding time to read to children every day.
In his speech, Obama also noted the suffering of earthquake victims in Haiti, saying the world's Haitian "brothers and sisters" were in desperate need.