Senate committee approves authorization for U.S. commodities regulator

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday approved a reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, nearly three years after the legislative authority for the country’s commodities and swaps regulator expired.

Timothy Massad, Chairman of the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), delivers the keynote address at the Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P. Global Exchange and Brokerage Conference in New York, June 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The head of the CFTC, Timothy Massad, praised the committee for clearing the way for the full Senate to vote on authorization.

“I am committed to continuing to work with Congress throughout this process, particularly on making sure end-users like agricultural producers can continue to safely and affordably use the derivatives markets, while ensuring these markets do not generate excessive risk to our financial system,” he said in a statement.

The CFTC has operated on year-by-year funding since the end of 2013 because Congress has not passed a new authorization, which lawmakers say created uncertainty in many markets. The House of Representatives has already approved a similar bill.

Republicans, who control the Senate, said the bill would allow farmers, ranchers and small energy providers to use derivatives for hedging operational costs without being ensnared in regulation intended to prevent the risky type of swap deals that contributed to the financial crisis.

The bill “allows for anticipatory hedges and the management of a hedge when it serves as a risk management tool for our producers and commercial end-users and not an investment or for speculation,” said Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas.

Still, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a proponent of strong Wall Street oversight, said the bill as written would also benefit financial players.

“It’s clear that this bill is all about helping Wall Street traders and big energy companies like Koch Industries under the guise of helping farmers,” he said.

Massad’s major concern involved funding.

The senior Democrat on the committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, sought to add a provision that would create a model for backing the CFTC similar to that used for the Securities and Exchange Commission, which offsets taxpayer funds it receives with fees and fines. The proposal was not included in the final bill.

“The funding language proposed by Senator Stabenow addresses the fact that we are the only federal financial regulator without some form of fee-based funding,” Massad said.

Republican John Boozman of Arkansas, who has say over the CFTC’s budget as chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on financial services, shot down the idea, describing funding tied to fines as a “bounty program.”

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Peter Cooney