Crazy is in the eye of the beholder.
Texas singer-songwriter Willie Nelson wrote the signature love ballad Crazy, but it’s a loaded word in Congress, especially when used to describe the Lone Star State.
Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., found that out when he said Monday night at a Rules Committee hearing that Texas is a “crazy state” and Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, took it personally.
The Texan demanded an apology. He didn’t get it. Not only that, Hastings said he could wait “until hell freezes over for me to say anything in an apology.”
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On Tuesday morning, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, gave a floor speech defending Texas. And by early evening, the state’s 25-member House Republican delegation had issued a one-sentence statement on the kerfuffle: “Don’t mess with Texas.”
The lawmakers also called for an apology.
The Rules Committee dispute was over Texas’ failure to participate in the Affordable Care Act by establishing a state insurance exchange. It escalated Tuesday with a floor speech by Sessions, the chairman.
Burgess — a physician who has been one of the House GOP leadership’s go-to people opposing the health insurance law — is hardly a firebrand. A longtime House member, Hastings is known for speaking his mind.
Both are members of the Rules Committee, which sets procedures and determines amendments for bills heading for a vote on the House floor.
On Monday, the panel was debating a bill to repeal the nation’s healthcare law when Hastings said that governors should have worked with the administration.
“I don’t know about in your state, which I think is a crazy state to begin with — and I mean that just as I said it,” Hastings said to Burgess.
After some sniping and gavel-pounding by the presiding chairwoman, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Burgess said, “The gentleman made a very defamatory statement about my state, and I will not stand here and listen to it!”
Hastings said he could leave: “I told you what I think about Texas — I wouldn’t live there for all the tea in China.”
Burgess was hopping-mad and organized the Republicans’ joint statement.
Texas Democratic members mostly stayed out of the fray, although Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, responded to an inquiry from the Star-Telegram that turned the issue back to healthcare.
“I am proud of my home state of Texas and disagree with Mr. Hastings’ characterization of our great state,” he said via email. “However, what I do believe is ‘crazy’ is that our state Legislature and governor have denied access to affordable health coverage to nearly 1 million Texas adults by not expanding Medicaid.
“Texas is one of 23 states that have refused to expand Medicaid as a result of a handful of politicians that believe that partisan political gain is more important than the health of the communities they represent.”
Texas is also one of 36 states that did not create a healthcare exchange.
Andrew Wheat, research director of Texans for Public Justice, a liberal activist group in Austin, said: “I think it is a crazy state. This is a low-tax, low-service model.”
Joshua Trevino, spokesman for the Austin-based conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has criticized the healthcare law, said wryly, “We should defer to our Florida colleagues as to what constitutes ‘crazy.’”