WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As lawmakers bargained, fretted and sweated through talks to wrap up the U.S. financial reform bill on Thursday, there was a single regulator whose ubiquitous presence was a reminder of one of the toughest issues to resolve.
Gary Gensler, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, has been a forceful advocate of reining in the $615 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market since Congress first began looking at how to respond to the financial crisis.
A marathon runner, Gensler had a front-row seat for the Senate-House panel and the Baltimore resident was overheard making plans to spend the night in Washington so he could stay for the duration of talks.
While other Obama administration officials popped in and out of private meetings with lawmakers through the day, Gensler -- whose agency will gain substantial new clout from the bill -- was the sole regulator to go the distance.
“He’s the only agency head who’s spent the day here. He’s obviously having a great time,” one lobbyist said.
Staff members from the Securities and Exchange Commission were in the room but when asked why their boss Mary Schapiro was not there, they said: “She’s working.”
Gensler chatted with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd early in the morning and had a top seat with legislative aides for some of the proceedings.
He stayed even as the air conditioning was turned down in the evening hours as Washington sweated through a heatwave.
At 9 p.m., Gensler was talking on his phone while pacing the halls before heading to the conference committee’s backroom for a slice of pizza and a chat with Richard Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.
He huddled with Robert Holifield, a former aide who now is the top staffer to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln, who proposed the toughest measures on swaps.
Earlier, Gensler was seen talking to Lincoln herself, as well as Representative Barney Frank -- the powerful chair of the panel -- and he also worked the lobbyists, who failed to defeat his vision for swaps reform.
GENSLER‘S ACTIVISM UNUSUAL
It’s not the first time Gensler’s go-to-guy role in the financial reform debate has raised eyebrows.
Gensler fielded questions from lawmakers during the Senate Agriculture Committee’s “mark-up” of its derivatives bill, which became the template for Congressional reforms.
Afterward, Republican Senator Judd Gregg criticized him for what he described as a power grab.
“It’s trying to consolidate as much power as possible ... in-house and give the chairman of the CFTC basically massive authority over this market at levels never seen before,” Gregg told Reuters in April.
But on Thursday night, Gregg said it was “smart” for Gensler to be in the room. “He wants to make sure his views are heard, that’s why he has been so effective,” Gregg said.
Gensler, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, is a recent convert to reformist zeal.
As a Treasury official in the Clinton administration, Gensler worked on a law that exempted most over-the-counter derivatives, such as credit default swaps, from oversight.
The law was blamed for helping speed the meltdown of the U.S. financial market during the financial crisis -- and some lawmakers blocked his confirmation to the CFTC role because of concerns he would not crack down on the financial sector.
But since his appointment, he has been a tireless speaker on the need for rules.
“Just like a street light protects you from dark and dangerous highways, we need something to protect us from the dark and dangerous market that is right now is OTC derivatives,” Gensler told Reuters in April, repeating a metaphor he often uses in his call for reform.
Additional reporting by Charles Abbott and Kim Dixon; Editing by John O'Callaghan