Concerned Over Shortage, US House Votes To Continue Helium Program
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Following a nearly unanimous vote in the US House of Representatives to keep it alive, the fate of a federal program overseeing the sale of the second-most abundant element in the universe will be in the hands of the Senate.
On Friday, the House voted 394-to-1 in favor of maintaining the Federal Helium Program, which was initially created in 1925 in order to combat Germany´s early advantage in the blimp-building industry, explained Alex Rogers of Time.com.
California Rep. Linda Sanchez, a Democrat, was the lone individual to cast a vote against the program.
Former Presidents Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton both attempted to eliminate the program during their presidencies, according to the Washington Post. The program was scheduled to finally meet its end this October — that is, until the House voted to potentially revive it.
The debate over the program´s fate had its fair share of somewhat humorous moments, according to the Daily Mail. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, asked the Speaker of the House to “imagine“¦ a world without balloons“¦ How can we make sure that the injustice of there being no helium for comedians to get that high-pitched voice that we all hold near and dear to our hearts.”
Others, including Rep. Doc Hastings, put a more serious spin on the debate.
“Despite what many think, helium is not just used for party balloons,” Hastings, a Washington Republican and the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said according to Tom Howell Jr. of the Washington Times.
“It is essential to our 21st century economy. Without helium we wouldn´t have life saving MRI machines, computer chips, fiber optic cables or other devices used for defense needs,” he added.
Washington Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold said that the crux of the issue is the private sector´s inability to “step into a role that the government was giving up.”
The Federal Helium Program, he said, sells “vast amounts” of the gas to American companies that use it in the devices and machines mentioned by Hastings. Should the government stop marketing helium, Fahrenthold said, there would be no one to fill the demand and shortages could result.
The bill´s supporters, Howell added, argue that it is “intended to protect the country, if not the world, from a damaging dearth of helium that could derail key medical and scientific innovations that rely on the prized substance“¦ Despite helium´s universal abundance, worldwide demand for the colorless, odorless gas exceeds the private sector´s ability to produce it.”