Republicans rebuked North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue after she suggested Congress suspend elections for two years so lawmakers can get to work stimulating the economy unencumbered by anxiety about what voters think.
The governor's office has since claimed the remark was "hyperbole." But the North Carolina GOP isn't buying it.
"She wasn't joking at all. The congressional Democrats are wildly unpopular in North Carolina, so she may have been trying to invent a solution to save their jobs from public accountability," spokesman Rob Lockwood said. "If it was a joke, what was the set-up? What was the punch-line? Where was the pause for laughter?"
"We'll just call it an unconstitutionally bad-idea," he said in a statement.
The Constitution dictates elections for the House be held every two years.
The Raleigh News & Observer first reported that Perdue, a Democrat, suggested a change in protocol during a speech at a local Rotary Club.
"I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover," she said. "I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. ... You want people who don't worry about the next election." The audio has been posted online.
A spokeswoman for the governor later told the newspaper Perdue was "obviously using hyperbole to highlight what we can all agree is a serious problem: Washington politicians who focus on their own election instead of what's best for the people they serve."
Joking or not, Perdue wasn't alone in floating the suggestion of less frequent democracy.
"So what to do? To solve the serious problems facing our country, we need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic," he wrote.
The comments reflect widespread frustration with the partisan gridlock in Congress, and the seeming inability of lawmakers to accomplish routine tasks without protracted clashes. Congress has cycled from crisis to crisis this past year -- after narrowly averting a shutdown over a budget disagreement in April, the government came close to default during the subsequent debt-ceiling debate. Disagreements in Congress then imperiled funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. Most recently, Congress again came close to a shutdown over a dispute regarding disaster-relief funding.
But Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, in a column on his group's website, slammed Orszag and Perdue for their comments, saying less democracy is not the answer.
"Of course, there is the answer right there. Let's kill liberty," he wrote, suggesting "liberals" wanted to clear away democracy so "they can just push their crackpot ideas and not have to worry about the little people complaining about a few minor details like, the ideas don't work."
Paul Conway, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Generation Opportunity, released a statement calling on Perdue to apologize.
"The suggestion that a citizen's right to vote should in any way be taken away is a disservice to every American, to our men and women in uniform who are fighting all over the world to defend that right, and to every organization that is working to encourage more citizens to become involved in the electoral process," he said.