Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday that a decline in the Tea Party movement’s popularity makes a federal spending deal “much more likely” as the April 8 deadline to avert a government shutdown approaches.

His comments continue a political messaging effort by Democrats to cast Republican lawmakers as being held captive by the relatively small and extreme group which is pushing for draconian spending cuts and unrelated policy riders. 

Schumer, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” also claimed he’s sensitive to House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) difficult position in the spending debate.

“I have a lot of sympathy for Speaker Boehner, because he does want to come to an agreement. He knows how devastating a shutdown would be,” said Schumer, a top strategist for Senate Democrats. “The one group that is standing in the way here is the Tea Party.” 

“The American people are seeing the Tea Party for what it is – extreme – and their popularity is declining,” Schumer added, citing recent polling.

A CNN/ Opinion Research Corp. poll last week showed that 32 percent of the public has a favorable view of the conservative Tea Party movement, compared to 47 percent with an unfavorable opinion.

“When they lose clout, it makes an agreement much more likely. That’s another reason I am optimistic,” Schumer said.

The White House and Congressional Democrats and Republicans are racing to reach a deal on a spending package for the balance of fiscal year 2011 before the current stopgap plan expires April 8.