Republicans are punting on the big legislative items on its to-do list this month because they lack agreement to pass anything but short-term extensions of critical federal programs that are set to expire at the end of the month.
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., said it is likely lawmakers will be forced to pass a short-term extension of the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs out of authorization at the end of the month.
The move would mean delaying plans to put in place significant reforms and consumer protections that are part of major legislation overhauling the FAA.
"My sense is based on our calendar and based on where the House is, that it is pretty unavoidable at this point that we wouldn't do some sort of an extension," Thune said. "Six months would be about what I would be shooting at."
The FAA bill is one of several major measures Congress has put on hold by simply voting for short term extensions.
Lawmakers last week voted to extend government funding for three months rather than pass a full fiscal 2018 spending bill, and that bill included another punt on the National Flood Insurance program which was set to expire on Sept. 30.
Major proposals to overhaul the NFIP, which is outdated and $25 billion in debt, have been put on hold. Instead, lawmakers hastily voted to extend the current program until Dec. 8. Lawmakers had little choice. The NFIP is about to reach a $30.4 billion debt limit, and now faces thousands of new claims in the wake of two major hurricanes.
Meanwhile, neither the House nor the Senate has voted on a long-term reauthorizing measure, despite pleas from coastal lawmakers to skip the August recess in order to spend time debating the legislation.
Lawmakers in both parties are largely divided over how to reform the flood insurance program, which made it harder to bring to the floor and pass in either chamber. While House Republicans backed reforms to the program and some efforts to privatize flood insurance, the leading Senate proposal excluded those reform provisions.
The FAA reauthorization faced similar divisions.
A House-backed plan would privatize the nation's Air Traffic Control system, an idea supported by President Trump. But Thune, who wrote the Senate version, excluded the ATC privatization proposal because many Democrats and Republicans don't support it.
Congress may also punt on passing a budget this year, even though one is needed to advance tax reform, the GOP's most important agenda item. Attaching tax reform to the budget is required for Republicans use a procedure known as reconciliation, which allows them to dodge a filibuster by the Democrats in the Senate.
The House has yet to schedule a vote on fiscal 2018 budget thanks to internal GOP divide on spending reforms.
The Senate hasn't taken up a budget either, and Thune said Republicans could end up passing a shell budget that leaves out actual 2018 budget numbers and is simply used to advance tax reform.
"They are talking about it," Thune said of Senate budget negotiators. "They are looking at… whether or not it's a full-blown budget or a budget that is someone more limited in terms of its scope."
Republicans used a shell 2017 budget to advance a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. It expires on Sept. 30, leaving the GOP will little choice but to punt until another budget year, or perhaps attach it to the 2018 budget that is supposed to be used for tax reform.
"It probably gets punted into another time when we have a reconciliation vehicle available," Thune said of the health care bill. "It's a question of whether you can do tax reform and health care reform on one reconciliation vehicle. Those are the questions we are asking."