WASHINGTON — As spiking fuel and food prices rattle markets and consumers worldwide, the U.S. government on Tuesday formed an interagency task force to assess developments in oil and other commodity markets.

The task force comprises staff from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the departments of Treasury, Energy and Agriculture. It will examine oil supply and demand factors, investor practices and the role of new players in the markets, such as speculators and index traders, according to a CFTC release.

With gasoline prices exceeding $4 a gallon, government policymakers and members of Congress are straining to find solutions.

"High commodity prices are posing a significant strain on U.S. households, and the (new) interagency task force will aid public and regulatory understanding of the forces that are affecting the functioning of these markets," the CFTC said in the release.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, Senate Democrats pushed for the government to take some of the billions of dollars in profits being captured by the five biggest U.S. oil companies. But the move was blocked by Republicans, who also thwarted a Democratic proposal to give the government greater power to address oil market speculation that some argue has amplified the surge in crude prices.

The CFTC, which regulates U.S. futures markets, began a wide-ranging investigation in December of U.S. oil markets, with a focus on possible price manipulation. The agency is investigating potential abuses in the way crude oil is purchased, shipped, stored and traded nationwide. It also recently announced several other initiatives designed to enhance the transparency of U.S. and international energy futures markets.