Washington (CNN) – Sen. Chuck Schumer was caught in a candid moment Tuesday, instructing fellow Democratic senators to describe GOP spending cuts as "extreme" and to blame the Tea Party for preventing House Speaker John Boehner from cutting a deal to end the budget stalemate, unaware his comments were being listened to by reporters on a conference call.
The behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Democrats' political message strategy came as Schumer, D-New York, was about to begin a telephone call with reporters to talk about negotiations with Republicans over government spending cuts.
"OK," Schumer could be heard telling senators who were preparing to address reporters on the call. "The main thrust is basically that we want to negotiate and we want to come up with a compromise but the Tea Party is pulling Boehner too far over to the right."
"I always use the word extreme," said Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat who is in charge of his party's political messaging. "That's what the caucus instructed me to do the other week."
As if on cue, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, opened the call by urging Boehner "to abandon the extreme right wing of his Republican caucus and come and compromise with us."
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, followed. He complained about "some of our right-wing extremist friends in the House."
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, was next. He urged Boehner that "this is not about satisfying the extreme elements of the Republican caucus."
The repetition on the theme went on from there.
The candid comments really weren't that different from anything Schumer has said publicly. Nevertheless, they came at a sensitive time for the budget talks and caused an instant backlash from distrustful Republicans.
"That's really not helpful if we are trying to reach an agreement here," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.
"Chuck Schumer did us a favor, he exposed their tactic," said Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican leader. "He's basically instructing his members to deem any spending cut unreasonable. Any spending cut. So clearly they are not serious."
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican whip, accused Schumer of wanting "to engineer a political gain, which reporters could actually hear on a call. He's spending more time on politics that he's spending on policy. He's putting politics before people."
Asked by CNN about how the precall incident happened, Schumer shrugged, "I don't know." Then he quickly got back on message, arguing the cuts in the House Republican bill – HR 1 - go too far.
"I do think HR 1 is extreme. And almost everyone in our caucus does," he said before slipping onto the Senate floor.