Senate committee approves Gensler to head CFTC

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s nominee to oversee U.S. futures markets, who has confessed he should have done more to rein in exotic financial instruments that have battered global markets, was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Monday.

Gary Gensler, President Barack Obama's choice to head the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, speaks after being introduced during a news conference in Chicago December 18, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

The approval of Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs executive, clears the way for a Senate vote putting him in charge of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

He was approved by a roll-call vote. A spokeswoman for the committee could not provide a tally, but said there were no negative votes.

During his February confirmation hearing, lawmakers grilled Gensler on his involvement as a high-level Treasury official in a 2000 law that exempted the $58 trillion credit default swap market from oversight.

The financial instruments have been blamed for amplifying global financial turmoil.

During the hearing, Gensler said he and other officials “should have done more to protect the American public through aggressive regulation, comprehensive regulation.”

Lawmakers, including Sen. Tom Harkin who heads the Senate Agriculture Committee, pressed Gensler on whether he could commit to regulating the same financial instruments he once worked to exempt from oversight.

“With our current economic crisis, it is painfully clear that our nation’s financial system requires a much stronger and more effective regulatory scheme, and it is important that we have an effective leader at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission,” Harkin said in a statement on Monday.

“I am hopeful that he will lead effectively in reforming and restoring regulation of trading in futures and other derivatives contracts,” he said.

Gensler also has supported position limits on physical commodities, said that clearing should be mandatory for standardized over-the-counter derivatives and opposed a merger of the CFTC and the Securities and Exchange Commission, the regulator of equities markets.

The CFTC has been criticized for not doing enough to monitor trading volatility when a range of commodities, particularly oil, were roaring to record highs in 2008.

Editing by Christian Wiessner, David Gregorio