Rich Galen

Not every local issue is life-and-death, or hundreds of jobs. A woman who has been working on her kid's homecoming float complained that there is a shortage of helium and so the whole balloon motif had to be scrapped.

Helium is one of the most common elements in the universe. Too bad, then that the helium needed for homecoming float balloons doesn't come from the universe; it mostly comes as the result of natural gas production and most of that comes from natural gas produced in Texas that has high concentrations of helium.

It will not surprise you to learn that the shortage in helium - which is also used, according to Popular Mechanics Magazine, in in cryogenics, high-energy accelerators, arc welding, cooling MRI magnets, and silicon wafer manufacturing - is due to the Federal government manipulating how much there is and how much what there is should cost.

Another portion of my 20% ignorance allowance went into this, but there is a good article on the Secret Decoder Ring if you're interested.

These were just three of the issues raised to Congressman Johnson during the course of one dinner.

I don't expect the shortage of anesthetics and helium, nor the state of worldwide Manganese Ferro Alloy production to be part of the list of questions Jim Lehrer is building for the debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney next Wednesday night.

But, for the folks at that dinner these are real problems that may or may not have a federal solution.

In any event, it was a good reminder that getting out of the Beltway Bubble on a regular basis is a good idea to find out what everyday Americans - the people the two Presidential campaigns claim to be so concerned about - are dealing with every day.

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at