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How much is enough?

An Associated Press report reveals that as the U.S. economy continues to struggle, pay for CEOs rose to record levels last year.

The AP reported the median pay for the top employees of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index combined to be roughly $8.4 million, or nearly $300,000 more than the 2006 total.

The large CEO payouts are a point of contention for labor unions. Richard Ferlauto, director of pension and benefits policy for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a Washington labor group that represents government workers, told the AP the CEOs will always get their money.

“Compensation has become a shell game,” he said. “… They take away the bonus, but then they still come up with ways to make sure the executive gets a big payout.”

The AP report comes on the heels of Congress’ decision not to tax the windfall profits of oil companies, which are recording record profits as gasoline stands at more than $4 per gallon.

So as corporate CEOs and oil companies rake in the dollars, they become easy targets because of the realities consumers face in a struggling economy. For people paying record prices for fuel or struggling to hang on to their homes, the last thing they want to hear about are record salaries for CEOs and off-the-chart profits for oil companies.

But Congress was correct not to interfere with the workings of our capitalist society. In general, the public does not want government intrusion in their lives and that includes dictating how much money a company can make.

That’s because if it’s OK for Congress to determine how much is enough for oil companies, who’s to say it could not determine how much is enough for any of our employers and, in turn, any employee?

So even though those dollar figures are frustrating to those who help create them, Congress was wise to stay out of this fight.