- N.C. math whiz to unveil secret of March Madness picks
- An appealing offer: Chiquita merges with Fyffes to make world’s largest banana firm
- Amnesty International says Syria guilty of war crimes for food blockade
- Mitch McConnell on beating tea party: ‘We are going to crush them’
- Adam Lanza’s dad: He would’ve killed me ‘in a heartbeat’
- North Korea holds election: 100% turnout, Kim Jong-un gets — 100% of vote
- Gentlemen, start your drones: Judge’s ruling opens door for commercial use
- Soldier who hid, bragged about not saluting flag to be punished — in secret
- ‘Maverick’ of the seas: ‘Top Gun’ school for U.S. ship officers to launch
- Putin declares Sochi Paralympics open amid Ukrainian protest
Bipartisanship surfaces on issue of helium reserve
Deadline looms to auction off federal supply
Federal lawmakers from both parties say they’re eager to scale down the nation’s helium reserve without disrupting the supply chain, a seemingly arcane effort that is so urgent it may “rise above” the partisan rancor on Capitol Hill.
The Senate is mulling its version of legislation the House passed last month to gradually auction off the government’s supply of helium in the Texas Panhandle.
If Congress fails to act, the government’s authority to sell the inert gas will soon lapse because of a 1996 law that requires the privatization of the reserve either by 2015 or when more than $1 billion in debts on the reserve is paid off.
This fall, the country is ready to pay off those debts.
“As a result, the helium program will terminate in October absent congressional action,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said Tuesday at a hearing on the bill.
Legislators want to sell off most of its supply to refineries and other qualified purchasers over the next several years and obtain market value for it, because analysts say current prices are not as high as they should be.
Ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, said it is imperative for the Senate to act swiftly, providing time for both chambers of Congress to reconcile any differences in their bills before it heads to President Obama’s desk.
“Advancing this bill will lift a weight off the shoulders of many sectors that rely upon helium,” she said from the dais, while aides chuckled behind her. “It’s a noble effort that can float above the partisan fray, and we should all rise in support of it.”
The helium reserve was established in a post-World War I environment, when blimps were king.
Political leaders in Washington have tried for decades to get the government out of the helium business, but they can’t quit cold turkey. The stockpile satisfies 40 percent of domestic demand and 30 percent, globally, and “there simply are no practical alternatives to replacing that supply today,” Mr. Wyden said.
He said that while helium is often associated with party balloons, it is “a critical resource for a number of important sectors of the American economy.”
“It’s used as a coolant for MRI machines,” he said. “It’s used in semiconductor manufacturing, fiber optics manufacturing and research and development.”
The House voted, 394-1, last month to draw down the helium reserve through controlled sales and semi-annual auction instead of cutting off the federal supply from the marketplace. Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, California Democrat, issued the lone dissenting vote by mistake, according to her spokesman.
Buoyed by broad consensus for the mission, legislative aides and industry members said both chambers of the Congress should be able to overcome their divergent approaches to auctioning off the gas.
The Senate version protects existing refiners’ supply in the short term and waits until fiscal 2015 to sell off 10 percent of the reserve, a ratio that increases to 20 percent in year two, 30 percent in year three and so on.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
- Russia should be booted from FIFA World Cup, senators say
- New tool helps figure Obamacare penalties
- Tax-prep firms pitch in, cash in on Obamacare
- Obama tries to reassure Hispanics on Obamacare
- Half of uninsured look to Obamacare exchanges for coverage
Latest Blog Entries
TWT Video Picks
Taxpayers must pay the freight for over-budget train projects
- Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians
- Rand Paul wins 2014 CPAC straw poll, Ted Cruz finishes a distant second
- Investigators puzzle: How does a 777 jetliner just disappear into thin air?
- Russia besieges Crimea as U.S. seeks diplomacy; Putin remains undeterred by Obama's sanctions
- As Crimea falls, Obama takes Key Largo golf vacation, Biden hits Virgin Islands
- Senate Democrats, Republicans spar over restoring unemployment benefits
- CURL: Today's GOP really is Reagan's 'Big Tent' party
- Adam Lanza's dad: He would've killed me 'in a heartbeat'
- Bill Clinton poses for photo with Bunny Ranch prostitutes
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Winter storm hits states — again