Helium bill advances in the House

The bill would adjust a 1996 law that called on the federal government to sell off its helium stocks at below market prices. Most members seem to agree that the law created a disincentive for private production.

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Government sales are scheduled to stop later this year, which could lead to shortages of helium in the U.S., and force companies to buy helium overseas. The legislation fixes this problem by providing for structured government sales of helium through auctions.

But with broad agreement on the bill, Democrats used the rule debate to accuse the GOP of slow-walking the legislation, and of dodging larger debates on the sequester and the budget.

"The majority is stretching this bill out over two days," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). "Two days… to consider a bill that isn't controversial, and will pass overwhelmingly.

"While we're spending a ridiculous amount of time on this bill, the Republican majority continues to ignore the economy."

Democrats also noted that the House will be out next week, and said members should not be going home while thousands of government workers are being furloughed. That led to a debate in which Republicans defended the recess over these Democratic objections.

"Some people think that if we never go back and talk to our constituents, that we're hiding from them," Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said. "And that is why the district work period, to me, is not a vacation, it's not a recess from what we're doing. It's the chance to actually expand what we're doing, so when we come back here we make wiser decisions."

"I think going on recess, with all of this happening, quite frankly is unconscionable," Rep. McGovern responded. "That's running away from our responsibility here in this Congress."

Before approving the rule, the House amended it to allow for other votes on suspension bills on Friday.

After passing it, the House began general debate on the helium bill.