Sen. Charles Schumer

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) talks about how to change the Democratic Party agenda to counter the influence of the tea party wing of the Republican Party. (Saul Loeb / AFP-Getty Images / January 23, 2014)

WASHINGTON – One of the Democrats' top strategists in Congress said his party should punch back against the rise of the conservative tea party with a full-throated defense of government.

He called for a 2014 legislative agenda that promotes jobs, education and infrastructure programs, which he predicted would appeal to many Americans.

"Times are now ripe for a renewed and robust defense of government," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a speech Thursday at the Democratic-aligned Center for American Progress. The party "must state loudly and repeatedly that we believe government is often a necessary force for good."

The policy prescription from Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, heading into the midterm election in November may not be embraced by everyone in his party. Key red state senators and lawmakers in the House may shy from a progressive-leaning agenda as they enter tough reelection battles.

But the message from Schumer, who engineered the party’s Senate majority as its campaign chairman for two consecutive cycles, cannot be ignored.

Schumer charts an agenda for Congress that includes extending unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage, making college more affordable and investing in infrastructure.

He said the political dynamics have shifted since the tea party's ascent that ushered in the House Republican majority in 2010. Polls show Americans’ concerns over the rising deficit and the new healthcare law – issues stoked by the tea party as the economy struggled – have waned. Jobs and the economy are now top in voters' minds.

But he said the tea party's message that "almost every government program or approach is evil" has run its course, comparing the conservative flank to the temperance movement that brought on prohibition.

"The best way to deal with the tea party's obsessive anti-government mania is to confront it directly, by showing the people the need for government to help them out of their morass," Schumer said.

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lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

Twitter: @lisamascaroinDC