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 was a “crazy state” and Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, took it personally.
The Texan demanded an apology, and not only didn’t he get it from the Floridian, but Hastings said Burgess could wait “until hell freezes over for me to say anything in an apology.”
On Tuesday morning, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, gave a floor speech defending Texas, and by early evening the state’s entire 25-member House Republican delegation issued a one-sentence statement on the kerfuffle: “Don’t mess with Texas.”
The lawmakers also demanded an apology.
The 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 panel chairman.
Burgess is hardly a firebrand; a physician who has been one of the House GOP leadership’s go-to people opposing the health insurance law. A longtime member, he’s known for speaking his mind.
The Rules Committee sets procedures and determines amendments for bills heading for a vote on the House floor. Monday the panel was debating a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act – which the House has tried more than 50 times – 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 chair, 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 told Burgess 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 joint statement of the Texas Republicans.
Texas Democratic members mostly stayed out of the fray, although Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, responded to an inquiry from McClatchy that turned the issue back to health care.
“I am proud of my home state of Texas and disagree with Mr. Hasting’s 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 health care 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 conservative Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is a strong critic of the health care law, said wryly, “We should defer to our Florida colleagues as to what constitutes ‘crazy.’”