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The U.S. government is hoarding helium -- why?

Sparks flew -- literally -- during marriage proposal in a hot air balloon that hit power lines in Indiana. (Photo: Wikimedia)

In the 1930s, the United States government created a large helium reserve in preparation for blimp warfare. Obviously we never fought any blimp wars, but true to the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of Big Government, the federal helium program is still around today. In fact, the House of Representatives today voted 394-1 to keep it alive.


The Washington Post explains:

The problem is that the private sector has not done what some politicians had predicted it would — step into a role that government was giving up. The federal helium program sells vast amounts of the gas to U.S. companies that use it in everything from party balloons to MRI machines.

If the government stops, no one else is ready. There are fears of shortages.

So Congress faces an awkward task. In a time of austerity, it may reach back into the past and undo a rare victory for downsizing government.

“If we cannot at this point dispense with the helium reserve — the purpose of which is no longer valid — then we cannot undo anything,” then-Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said back in 1996, when Congress thought it finally killed the program.

Today, the program is another reminder that, in the world of the federal budget, the dead are never really gone. Even when programs are cut, their constituencies remain, pushing for a revival.

See the Post's video report after the jump!

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