Among the voices reveling in the passage of health care this week was Organizing for America, the grass roots political group that is the post-campaign heir to the volunteer network that helped elect President Barack Obama.
In the days before the crucial House vote last Sunday, OFA leaders were encouraging their volunteers across the country to contact House members and note their support _ an effort to countervail the noisy opposition of anti-bill forces such as the various Tea Party groups. The OFA troops had been active on a variety of issues before Congress in the last year but this was their biggest test so far. Nationally, the group said their members had made nearly 500,000 calls to members of Congress in the last ten days before the vote in addition to sending more than 300,000 letters. In Pennsylvania, that meant more than 20,000 calls to House members, according to the group. OFA officials said their supporters also pledged to volunteer more than 9 million hours for pro-health care lawmakers, including more than 300,000 hours of work for Pennsylvania members, for their campaigns in the next election.
There’s no reliable way to measure exactly what effect the OFA activity had, or whether it moved more votes than the well-publicized activity of the anti-bill forces. Tea Party partisans were making their own phones calls. Locally, busloads of anti-bill Pennsylvanians made the trip to Washington to lobby against the bill. But in a vote as close as it was, the OFA efforts had to be counted as a positive force for passage.
OFA members received an email from former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe this week, urging them to send letters to the editor to local publications, praising House member who supported the health bill. But the next big major test for OFA will come this fall, when members work to try to lure first-time voters from 2008 back to the polls to support Democratic candidates. OFA aspires to be a community-organizing group that goes beyond traditional electoral politics to be an ongoing influence on policy debates before Congress. It may be, however, that the its most potent influence on policy will be in returning to its roots as a force for voter turnout. If OFA can help turn out enough voters in November to stem the widely predicted erosion of the Democrat’s congressional majorities, that would have huge effect on increasing the administration’s policy prospects in the next session of Congress.