The bill is a significant departure from a 1996 law that first called on the government to sell off helium from the reserve. Under the old law, helium could be sold at below-market prices in order to quickly pay off a $1.3 debt associated with the reserve.

That debt is expected to be repaid by October, and under current law, the government's sale of helium was to end then. But the below-market sales created a disincentive for domestic production, and the act of cutting off sales in October has the potential to create domestic shortages.

The bill passed today calls for the government to auction off its helium reserve in an effort to raise prices, and give the private industry more time to find domestic sources.

Before final passage, members considered four amendments, from:

— Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Austin Scott (R-Ga.) — ensuring excess funds from the sale of helium are used to reduce the budget deficit. Passed voice vote.

— Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) — ensuring the government honors existing helium contracts that expire before October 2015. Failed 87-312.

— Rush Holt (D-N.J.) — requiring an assessment of how closing the Federal Helium Reserve would affect supply in the future. Passed voice vote.

— Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) — affirming the authority of the government to let private entities connect to and store helium in the Federal Helium Reserve. Passed voice vote.