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Doing the math

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In a climate of war, recession and massive layoffs, members of Congress have given themselves a little pick-me-up: a $4,900 raise. It's the third pay increase in four years and will take their salaries to $150,000 a year.

Now I don't know about you, but I don't make anywhere near that amount. With elections on the horizon, I considered telling the next incumbent congressperson calling for a handout to use that extra $4,900 for his or her campaign and just pretend it was from me.

Defenders of the pay hike say the raise is deserved because legislators are paid less than what they would earn in the private sector. So I decided to look up the salaries of American CEOs on the AFL-CIO's "CEO PayWatch" site, www.aflcio.org/paywatch/. Here's what I found:

AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald M. Levin made $44.7 million in 2000. And that doesn't include the $144,796,050 in stock options from previous years. At that rate, Levin can pay the salaries of 298 members of Congress. If you earn $30,000 annually, you'd have to work 1,492 years to make as much as he did last year.

Charles A Heimbold Jr. earned $53.5 million in 2000 as CEO of Bristol-Meyers Squibb. At that rate, he can pay the salaries of 356 in Congress. He can also buy the entire population of the state of North Carolina (8 million) a McDonald's Happy Meal, and still have $29.3 million left over.

Harvey Golub, chairman and CEO of American Express, earned a whopping $56.8 million and has another $114 million in unused stock options. Golub can pay the salaries of 379 in Congress and can buy 1,895 Ford Explorers. For his salary, American Express could hire 1,137 workers at $50,000 a year.

I'm not suggesting a cap on CEO salaries. Their rates are simply what the market will bear--or so the experts tell me. But in the current atmosphere of "corporate restructuring," and the Bush administration's appeal to keep the economy rolling, I just have to wonder--whose side are these guys on?

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