Inflation: House votes for higher helium prices

The bill calls for the government to auction off its helium supplies for the next few years, a change meant to create some price inflation.

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For several years now, the government was required to sell off its helium reserves at below-market prices, part of a congressional effort to kick the government out of the helium business. But these below-market sales made companies reliant on the government-sourced gas, and killed off an incentive for them to develop their own resources.

In addition, current law only requires the government to sell off helium until it could pay off a $1.3 billion debt related to the operation of its helium reserves. That debt is nearly paid off, which means the government plans to stop selling helium in October.

Sponsors of the bill fear that could put many companies in an immediate bind, and say a new requirement to auction off helium is the right mix to give companies time to find new supplies.

Because the same bill has now been passed by the House and Senate, it will now to to the White House for President Obama's signature into law.

Also on Wednesday, the House approved legislation that exempts a famous riverboat from federal safety rules.

The bill, H.R. 1961, would extend an exemption that the Delta Queen gets from rules requiring parts of ships to be build with fire-retardant materials. The Delta Queen was built in 1926 and is now a national landmark.

Republicans said the boat would still be subject to Coast Guard safety inspections. Some Democrats replied that failing to require the boat to live up to fire-safety standards would make it a "fire trap" that could cause significant safety hazard for passengers.

But the question split Democrats, and the bill was able to pass in a 280-89 vote.

Both bills were called up under a suspension of House rules, a process usually used for non-controversial bills that requires a two-thirds vote for passage.