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Top Baltimorean in Obama Admin officially joins today

Gary Gensler, a Democratic fund-raiser and policymaker from Baltimore, will be sworn in today as head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Vice President Joe Biden will do the honors this afternoon in a private ceremony.

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Gensler's agency oversees trading in everything from farm products, like soybeans, to some of the once-obscure financial instruments that have been widely blamed for touching off last year's financial market collapse. His nomination was held up for weeks by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who opposed Gensler because the Marylander helped prevent regulation of those financial products when he worked at the Treasury department during President Bill Clinton's administration.

There had been speculation that Gensler's tenure at the CFTC would be short-lived. Reformers have long wanted to see the agency folded into the Securities and Exchange Commission, to simplify regulation of the markets, and expected President Barack Obama to finally make it happen.

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Instead, in a shocking development, Washington politics of the most basic sort blocked the reform effort.The CFTC is overseen in Congress by the Agriculture committees. The SEC is the responsibility of different committees (Senate Finance and House Ways and Means). That means Agriculture committee members would lose a lucrative source of campaign contributions if the CFTC went out of business.

According to various media accounts, the Obama administration decided that it didn't want to fight another battle with Congress at the same time it was attempting to overhaul the health care system and impose a cap-and-trade system on the energy sector of the economy. So when Obama announces his sweeping financial reform package on Wednesday, there is expected to be no change in the CFTC's status.

Gensler, a prominent supporter of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, advised Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes during the early years of the last Bush administration when the Democratic senator was drafting a broad new accounting law that came to be known as Sarbanes-Oxley.

Before entering politics, Gensler was a successful investment banker, becoming a partner at Goldman Sachs at age 30.

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