You’ve likely never heard of William Natcher, which would have been just fine with him.
Natcher spent four decades in Congress representing the area around Bowling Green, Ky., and for the most part the national press ignored him, just as he ignored them. He didn’t have time for burnishing his public image; he was what is known on Capitol Hill as “a workhorse, not a show horse.”
For many years, Natcher headed a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that dealt with the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. In his day, the appropriations subcommittee leaders were arguably the most powerful legislators on Capitol Hill: they were known as “the College of Cardinals” and were feared and respected not just by their colleagues but, more importantly, by the people who ran the executive-branch departments they oversaw.
These days, the position carries much less power. As Scott Lilly, a longtime congressional staffer who now teaches at Georgetown University, put it recently in an insightful article for the congressional-affairs journal Extensions, the chairmen once known as the Cardinals are now “more like a ragtag band of parish priests.”