One of the leading Democratic talking points in recent days has been that the GOP is unwilling to reach a budget deal with Democrats because Republicans are hostage to Tea Party extremists who won’t permit them to engage in anything approaching a reasonable compromise when it comes to spending cuts.

On the Senate floor today, Mitch McConnell pushed back on this notion with an extraordinary speech that served as a paean to the Tea Party movement, claiming that their goals are ”pretty reasonable” and that Democrats are the ones who are “extreme”:

The speech has some clever bits of sleight of hand. McConnell asks: “Is it extreme to propose that we cut spending?” The implication is that Republicans and Tea Partyers are the only party that wants to cut spending, while Dems don’t. But of course, Dems have already agreed to a number of spending cuts. For better or worse, the debate is now over how much to cut, and even many Republicans are not willing to go along with the depth of cuts that Tea Partyers are insisting on. The insistence of many Tea Partyers on $100 billion in cuts is not “pretty reasonable;” they are insisting on getting their way no matter what.

McConnell also tries to paint the Tea Party position on health reform as the mainstream one by noting that “a lot of people” want to repeal and replace the law. In fact, several detailed national polls have shown that only small minorities favor full repeal. And there’s more support for keeping the law as is or expanding it than for repealing parts of it or doing away with it entirely. McConnell also points out that “two federal judges have ruled” that the individual mandate is unconstitional, without noting that three judges have upheld it.

Dems, for their part, are likely to seize on this speech to amplify their talking point that the GOP is unwilling to compromise on the budget because they are hostage to Tea Party extremists. Chuck Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon emails:

“This kind of sop to the Tea Party belonged outside at the rally, not inside on the Senate floor. When the most establishment Republicans in Washington feel the need to bow to the Tea Party, it not only makes you feel bad for them, it shows why a reasonable compromise on the budget has taken so long.”

No doubt McConnell genuinely believes that the Tea Party is an important grassroots movement that’s helped revitalize the conservative movement and the GOP. No doubt he generally agrees with many of the Tea Party’s goals. But McConnell knows perfectly well that whatever budget compromise is reached in the end — either without a shutdown or after one — will be unsatisfactory to the Tea Party no matter what it contains. And the reason for that is simple: The Tea Party position in this debate is the extreme one. Are Dems “extreme”? Well, even if you think Dems have not been willing to concede enough on spending, they have in fact moved off their original position, and continue to do so. Many Tea Partyers have not been willing to budge from their original position at all. In other words, the Tea Party position is the extreme one by definition.