Perhaps there’s a limit to how many caves can occur in a week, because Democrats are actually taking a stand on the FAA authorization mess. The backstory here is that House Republicans basically left town without extending the FAA, which has been in partial shutdown since last week. As a result, 4,000 FAA personnel are on furlough, construction contracts are on halt (putting another 70,000 temporarily out of work), airport inspectors are flying around on their own dime without pay, and $200 million a week in taxes are going away, into the hands of the airlines, who are pocketing the money. All because Republicans don’t want Delta Airlines workers to be able to unionize, basically. And by leaving town, Republicans assured that this will go on for at least a month.

So today you have the closest thing to a coordinated attack on Republicans for this reckless action. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi blasted out press releases. The President mentioned the dispute before a cabinet meeting, saying that “this is a lose-lose-lose situation that can be easily solved if Congress gets back into town and does their job.” He added that the House and Senate are engaging in these pro forma sessions anyway, and all it would take would be to agree by unanimous consent to move forward, and not one member of Congress would be inconvenienced on their precious vacation.

Chuck Schumer echoed this in a press conference today.

“The FAA is in limbo. Airports are the economic engine of the small communities around the country, and that economic engine is now stuck in neutral,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters Wednesday. “Under the cover of the debt ceiling crisis, they are holding these aviation workers hostage until they get everything they want…they have taken brinksmanship again one step too far.”

Democrats, including Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV), Sens. Barbara Boxer (CA), Jay Rockefeller (WV), as well as House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD), called on Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to call the House back into active session and pass a clean FAA bill by unanimous consent.

Reid, in his previous statement, even named names, saying that this entire situation is about Republicans protecting the anti-worker stance of Delta.

Democrats could have taken the easier way out here, accepted the House-passed extension that had cuts to Essential Air Service and this policy rider for Delta on it, and gotten the FAA back to work. They chose not to sell out the workers at Delta. They tried to pass their own extension with the EAS cuts, but Senate Republicans denied unanimous consent. Now they are playing this out in the press.

Greg Sargent writes:

With tensions between labor and the Democratic Party running high over various policy let-downs endured by unions, the fight over the FAA has emerged as a key way for Dems — if they hold firm — to ensure that unions have a reason to work hard for national Dems in 2012.

I’m now told that the DCCC plans to make this showdown an issue in the districts of 50 House GOPers — who are pushing a version of FAA authorization that’s opposed by organized labor [...]

The DCCC is now going on the offensive over the issue, blasting out releases in the districts of 50 House Republicans slamming them for going on recess without agreeing to the “clean” temporary reauthorization. “Representative Chip Cravaack called it quits and closed shop in Washington without resolving the FAA shutdown, which has thousands of workers on furlough, safety inspectors working without pay, and millions lost in revenue by the day,” reads the DCCC release sent out in Cravaack’s district.

The question, though, is whether Dems will continue to hold firm after the recess against any long-term FAA reauthorization that contains the anti-union provision. The long-term proposal is now in conference negotiations.

That’s true, but so far, I’d say we’re off to a good start. And Republicans are in the bad position of staying on vacation while forcing thousands of FAA personnel and construction workers off the job. The optics are terrible for them. They could come back to Washington any day and rectify it.

UPDATE: Another element to this is that the Secretary of Transportation is Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman. He’s blaming his former colleagues for the shutdown pretty vociferously.

…There’s also James Inhofe’s role in all this.

UPDATE II: Incidentally, yes, Democrats are getting very little help from the President when he says that “Congress” needs to get the extension done, rather than “Republicans.”