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Shadegg Plans to Give Focus — and Better Food — to RPC

When elected to new leadership posts, lawmakers often set lofty goals, vowing to amass a vast power base while transforming the very nature of the positions they hold.

House Republican Policy Chairman John Shadegg (Ariz.) has set his sights a bit lower.

“We’d like to be able to serve lunch at our meetings,” Shadegg said.

Since taking over the job from Rep. Christopher Cox (Calif.) earlier this year, Shadegg has been quietly pushing for more staff and a larger budget. Having more money would help the RPC improve on its recent culinary offerings of delivered pizza and sandwiches from Subway.

Obviously, a better menu isn’t the only thing Shadegg wants to bring to the RPC. But it is representative of his fight to make the committee more relevant in an era when some Members aren’t even sure whether House Republicans need a Policy Committee anymore.

“I’m trying to sharpen its focus,” Shadegg said in an interview last week, explaining that while standing committees and the House Republican Conference regularly distribute information on pending bills, the RPC is better suited to working on longer-term policy issues.

“One of the things that I think Members feel around here is that there are very few venues where Members … can learn about issues before they hit the floor,” Shadegg said.

To that end, the RPC has already held three Social Security forums for lawmakers this year. Guests have included members of the Social Security board of trustees, Bush administration adviser Robert Pozen and GOP lawmakers who have introduced their own reform plans, a group that includes Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and South Carolina Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham.

Shadegg said the attendance level at the sessions so far hasn’t been “what I wanted it to be, but I have pretty high expectations.”

Shadegg also has been inviting standing committee chairmen to lay out their agendas for the year before the RPC, under the theory that many lawmakers are only able to keep abreast of the work being done by the panels on which they serve.

Last week, for example, Education and the Workforce Chairman John Boehner (Ohio) visited the lunch. Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (Texas) has also made a presentation, while Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (Calif.) is expected to visit soon.

In the future, Shadegg also hopes to put together a series of “unity dinners” similar to those previously held by then-Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas). The dinners will bring together about a dozen Republican lawmakers who are on different sides of a particularly contentious issue, such as immigration, in hopes that they might be able to find some common ground.

Only a few months into his job, Shadegg is also getting favorable reviews for his contributions to high-level GOP debates. For example, he is described by other attendees as an eager and active participant at leadership meetings.

“He’s very engaged,” said a senior leadership aide. “He always has an idea.”

As a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Shadegg is seen as especially good at telling his fellow leaders what the RSC is up to and how the group might react to a particular leadership decision.

At the same time, Shadegg said he has made an effort to be a representative of all factions of the Conference rather than simply being pigeonholed as the RSC’s man at the leadership table.

“When I ran for this job I made it clear that the Policy Committee was a creation of the whole Conference” and not just conservatives, Shadegg said.

As part of his effort to reach out to Republican centrists, Shadegg created the job of Policy Committee vice chairman and handed it to moderate Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (Md.).

But no matter how much outreach he does, Shadegg still has to deal with the fact that the Policy Committee has not been seen as a force within the Conference for several years.

When Republicans were in the minority, the committee was viewed as a valuable incubator of policy ideas. When the party took control of the House in 1995 and assumed the chairmanships of the committees that actually write and pass laws, the RPC’s role became less clear.

Shadegg is aware that if he wants to raise the RPC’s profile, he’ll need more resources to do it. Currently, the committee has a yearly budget of about $300,000, two full-time staff, a fellow and four shared employees who are overseen by Shadegg’s top aide, Elise Finley.

While most other leadership offices receive individual line items in the legislative branch appropriations bill, the RPC’s money is carved out of the Conference’s budget at the direction of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

The committee’s budget is set each fiscal year, meaning that the current funding level was set when Cox was still chairman. So Shadegg will have to wait until at least October for the opportunity to persuade Hastert to give the committee more money.

Shadegg is currently the only member of leadership from the famous Republican class of 1994, and if he succeeds in turning the Policy Committee around he could make a play for a higher leadership post.

Though he wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of an eventual move up the leadership ladder, Shadegg said he had his hands full with his current post.

“My primary goal right now is to do this job well,” he said. “If I’m successful in this job I’ll look at other issues.”

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