HUDSON, N.H. -- Jeb Bush raised eyebrows on Wednesday by suggesting that "people need to work longer hours" in order to grow the economy.
But he later clarified the comment, moving quickly to quell a fresh assault by Democrats eager to characterize the Republican presidential front-runner as out of touch.
Bush made the statement during a meeting with the editorial board of the New Hampshire Union Leader as he explained his ideas on tax reform and the need to generate 4 percent economic growth.
"My aspiration for the country -- and I believe we can achieve it -- is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see," he told the newspaper. "Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That's the only way we're going to get out of this rut that we're in."
The Democratic National Committee quickly jumped on the comments, e-mailing a clip of the exchange to reporters and calling them "easily one of the most out-of-touch comments we’ve heard so far this cycle."
Democrats and other groups sought to cast the remarks as echoes of gaffes made by Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, that added to a perception that he was a wealthy executive out-of-touch with ordinary Americans.
Not so fast, Bush told reporters as he clarified his comments after a town hall meeting at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall here.
"If we’re going to grow the economy people need to stop being part-time workers, they need to be having access to greater opportunities to work," he told reporters
He faulted the Obama administration and congressional Democrats for enacting a series of policies that have made it harder for businesses to create jobs and for Americans to work longer hours.
"You can take it out of context all you want, but high-sustained growth means that people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours and that by our success, they have money, disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than getting in line and being dependent on government," Bush said.
"Health-care costs are rising. In many places, the cost of doing business is extraordinarily high and the net result of that is that business start-up rates are at an all-time low. Workforce participation rates are low," he added. "If anyone is celebrating this anemic recovery then they’re totally out of touch. The simple fact is that people are really struggling. So giving people a chance to work longer hours has got to be part of the answer. If not, you’re going to see people lose hope."
Bush's appearance here was part of a day-long break from his annual vacation at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. In addition to visiting the state's largest newspaper, Bush greeted the breakfast-time crowd at a restaurant in Dover while his wife, Columba, met with advocates for domestic violence survivors and stopped by an ice cream shop in Manchester. But the campaign didn't advise reporters of her visits, meaning the press-shy political spouse revealed her travels instead through her personal Twitter account.