By Ian Bush

By tech editor Ian Bush

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) — Remember the “fiscal cliff”?

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Now, companies that include tech giants Intel, Samsung, and General Electric are warning of a “helium cliff,” with time running out to keep the gas flowing from a giant but little-known government reserve.

Tucked away in Amarillo, Tex. is the Federal Helium Reserve.

“It actually provides almost half of all the helium used in America,” says Politico tech reporter Alex Byers — and not just to fill party balloons.

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“Companies that make computer chips, companies that make MRI machines and perform MRI services, and companies that make fiber optic cable to carry your Internet traffic — they will feel the squeeze,” Byers warns, and they could pass the price increases on to you.

At issue is a 1996 law that marked the reserve for closure once its last debt payment was made. That will happen next month, turning off the valve to billions of cubic feet of helium, enough for years — unless Congress, currently consumed by the Syria crisis, acts.

“They’ve got this little-known issue to deal with that, if they don’t spend just a little bit of time looking at it, would have some consequences for a wide swath of the economy,” says Byers.


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