President Obama's move to impose new gun control restrictions via executive actions could cause turbulence for efforts to renew the Federal Aviation Administration's funding early this year.
The FAA's funding bill is one of the few pieces of must-pass legislation that is left on Congress' agenda after a busy 2015 that saw lawmakers pass a large spending bill for most government agencies and a multi-year highway funding package.
The agency's funding is currently set to expire March 31.
The fight over guns could jeopardize the FAA's chances of receiving a multiyear funding bill later this year.
Lawmakers are already expected to debate a proposal from House Republicans to privatize some facets of the nation's flight navigation system that could rile unions that represent air traffic controllers.
Aviation groups said before Obama announced his executive actions on guns that they were hoping to avoid a repeat of earlier standoffs in the upcoming FAA funding battle.
"Now is the time to restore our nation’s global leadership role in air traffic control (ATC) technology and innovation," the group that lobbies for for most major airlines in Washington, Airlines for America (A4A), said in a statement last month as lawmakers were finishing up work on the highway bill.
"We have the safest aviation system in the world, but it must also be the most modern and efficient," the airline group concluded.
The airline group said Tuesday that it is optimistic Congress will be able to keep the gun issue separate from the FAA's funding measure.
"We remain confident that Congress would not allow politics to undermine the needs of the two million passengers who fly on U.S. airlines everyday, and will seize this unique opportunity to deliver the transformational FAA reform bill that the traveling and shipping public deserves," the group said in a statement that was provided to The Hill.
The FAA has been at the center of budget battles in Washington before. The agency’s last funding measure, in 2012, was passed following a string of more than 20 temporary extensions that resulted in a partial shutdown of the agency in 2011.
The FAA’s funding was also cut in the 2013 sequester, resulting in air traffic controller furloughs and flight delays, before Congress passed a quick fix to restore the spending.
Republicans have expressed outrage at Obama's unilateral gun control push, and they are likely to search quickly for fast-moving legislation to attach provisions to overturn the president's executive actions.
"I agree we need to enforce the existing laws. The problem of course is the president picking and choosing which laws he enforces, and where's he going to find the money for these additional agents," Rep. Blake FarentholdBlake FarentholdWhy Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog Report on warrantless surveillance shows Congress must update privacy laws A national law needed to protect online freedom of speech MORE (R-Texas) said in an interview with MSNBC moments after Obama spoke of his gun control executive actions in a speech at the White House.
Obama's executive actions, which sidestep Congress, are designed to make more gun sales subject to background checks and beef up enforcement of existing laws. The changes are narrow in scope, reflecting the limits of Obama’s power on the issue of guns, but Republicans are riled up about the president's decision to go around them.
Farenthold cast the effort to oppose Obama's gun control measures as an effort to protect the right to bare arms that is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"I think you need to be ever vigilant," he said. "The Second Amendment, if you look at the historical context of the Second Amendment, was put in place in our Bill of Rights to make sure you do have the right to bear arms. And there is a natural fear of an all-powerful government. It's a normal thing. The Second Amendment is important to our foundation as a country."
Democrats defended Obama's executive actions Tuesday as a sensible set of reforms to the nation's gun control laws.
"These measures … are about enforcing existing law more effectively, not changing the law," Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalGOP eyes new push to break up California court Meet Trump's secret weapon on infrastructure Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era MORE (D-Conn.) said in an interview with MSNBC.
Blumenthal, whose state was rocked by a 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., pressed for more gun control legislation, not less.
"That still must be done because the president's measures are only a partial solution," he said. "More people will be required to get licenses. More background checks will take place. But the background checks still will not cover all of those sales that they must do and so there's still a need for legislation."
-This story was updated with new information at 7:29 p.m. Jordan Fabian contributed to this report.