CFTC nominee offers little insight on swaps rules

Thu Jul 21, 2011 7:12pm BST

* Wetjen: CFTC should not pass unneeded costs to end-users * Nomination faces uphill battle with unhappy Republicans * Wetjen would replace CFTC's Michael Dunn

(Adds quotes, details)

By Christopher Doering

WASHINGTON, July 21 (Reuters) - Mark Wetjen, facing skeptical lawmakers in his nomination bid for a post on the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said on Thursday the regulator should not stray from the wishes of Congress.

Wetjen's appointment to the CFTC is seen as pivotal as he could be a swing vote that bridges a growing divide among the five commissioners in their overhaul of financial regulations ranging from investor position limits to end-user exemptions.

Wetjen, a Democrat who once worked as a bartender and practiced law in Nevada and California, offered a limited glimpse into his regulatory mindset before the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees the CFTC.

"It is critical that the commission hews closely to the intent of Congress when finalizing its rules," Wetjen told the committee.

"It is critical that the commission continues its work in a careful, measured and thoughtful way, and that the CFTC works to get these rules right," he said.

Wetjen, 37, said the final rules should avoid passing unnecessary cost burdens on to commercial firms that use swaps, and should minimize so-called unintended consequences that hurt U.S. competitiveness or market liquidity.

The futures regulator is working to implement the Dodd-Frank law, which was enacted last July and gives the agency oversight of the $600 trillion global swaps market. The regulator, already well behind schedule, plans to finalize nearly 50 rules before the end of 2011.

Wetjen's nomination would require Senate confirmation -- a hurdle that could be even higher than usual due to Republican antipathy toward the CFTC's reforms and an overheated political climate ahead of 2012's elections.

If Wetjen is confirmed, he faces a daunting task getting immersed in the fast-paced rule-making under way at the CFTC.

"This is not intended as a criticism of you, Mr. Wetjen, but how can anyone be expected to absorb the huge amount -- thousands and thousands of pages -- of information that has been collected on each one of these rules without having the benefit of meeting with affected parties and being involved in the entire process?" asked Sen. Pat Roberts, the top Republican on the committee.

Wetjen (pronounced wee-jen) is counsel and senior policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. During the writing of Dodd-Frank, he helped rationalize differing versions of the bill, routinely briefed Reid and made sure the bill moved swiftly once it came to the Senate floor for passage.

The Obama administration picked Wetjen, an Iowa native and father of a 16-month-old son, in May to replace outgoing CFTC Commissioner Michael Dunn, a Democrat.

Dunn, who has shown an independent bent in his decisions at the CFTC, where he has been skeptical of a plan to curb commodity speculation, has agreed to stay on until his replacement is confirmed.

He has routinely been the decisive vote, ending deadlocks between Democrats Gary Gensler and Bart Chilton and Republicans Scott O'Malia and Jill Sommers.

(Editing by Russell Blinch and Dale Hudson)

((christopher.doering@thomsonreuters.com ; +202 898 8394 Reuters messaging: christopher.doering.reuters.com@reuters.net)) Keywords: FINANCIAL REGULATION/WETJEN

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