WASHINGTON The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the nomination of a Democratic commissioner to the U.S. futures regulator on Tuesday, an appointment that if confirmed could prove pivotal in the implementation of some far-reaching Wall Street reforms.
The committee approved Mark Wetjen, 37, by a voice vote in a room near the Senate chamber amid the uproar that accompanied voting on the U.S. debt limit. Lawmakers ducked into the room to have their say, before leaving into jam-packed hallways.
Wetjen's appointment would come as the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission grapples with implementing last year's Dodd-Frank law that gives the agency oversight over the $600 trillion global swaps market.
The full Senate, which also must approve Wetjen's confirmation, left on Tuesday for a nearly month-long recess. The earliest it could vote on Wetjen is September 6 when it returns.
Wetjen would replace outgoing Commissioner Michael Dunn, a Democrat known as an independent voice on the CFTC, which has two Republican commissioners and two Democratic commissioners, including Chairman Gary Gensler, remaining.
Wetjen could play a major role in helping the CFTC finish rules such as position limits that otherwise might lack the necessary minimum three votes needed for approval.
Craig Pirrong, a professor and a director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the University of Houston, said while Dunn's position was often uncertain, Wetjen would likely be "less skeptical and cast the decisive vote".
"This probably strengthens Gensler's hand in some respects because I think it's likely that he would be a reliable vote for him, but it's also likely to result in more tension in the commission" if there are 3-to-2 votes on important rules, Pirrong said.
Wetjen appeared before the Agriculture Committee last month. Senators appeared to support him but many questioned whether he could immediately dive into the rule-making process without having time to get up to speed.
At the hearing, Wetjen told lawmakers that future rules should avoid placing unnecessary costs on firms that use swaps, and should minimize so-called unintended consequences that hurt U.S. competitiveness or market liquidity.
Wetjen is counsel and senior policy adviser to Reid. During the Dodd-Frank process, he helped iron out differences between Senate committees and was tasked with keeping Reid informed.
(Additional reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by David Gregorio, Dale Hudson and Lisa Shumaker)