Thanks to an obscure 1996 law, the Federal Helium Reserve is scheduled to shut its doors on Oct. 7, locking 10 billion cubic feet of helium underground and immediately shutting off 35 percent of the world's helium supply.This is actually a bigger deal than it might sound (if you're enough of a news hound to be reading this, though, you probably have known that for months); the industrial uses for helium are varied, the original 1996 law has been artificially deflating (yes, yes) helium prices and discouraging production, and having a third of the world supply disappear overnight would be, for some industries and scientific undertakings, a fiasco.
But here's good news: The helium cliff is no longer nigh! On Thursday, the House and Senate both approved a bill that would keep the Federal Helium Reserve open for years to come. (President Obama has indicated he will sign the bill.) Lawmakers have essentially averted a fiasco of their own making.
Does this unexpected victory for logic and bipartisanship hint that Congress will be able to muddle through all these other self-inflicted crises? Will yet another example of 1990s federal faux-frugality screwing things up prove a lesson to current lawmakers? Will any newscaster anywhere be able to report this story without making blimp jokes? The answers are no, of course not, and no chance in hell.