Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), a leading advocate of shrinking entitlement spending and the architect of the plan to privatize Medicare, spent Wednesday evening sipping $350 wine with two like-minded conservative economists at the swanky Capitol Hill eatery Bistro Bis.... The pomp and circumstance surrounding the waiter’s presentation, uncorking and decanting of the pricey Pinot Noir caught the attention of another diner who had already recognized Ryan sitting with two other men nearby.
Susan Feinberg, an associate business professor at Rutgers, was at Bistro Bis celebrating her birthday with her husband that night. When she saw the label on the bottle of Jayer-Gilles 2004 Echezeaux Grand Cru Ryan’s table had ordered, she quickly looked it up on the wine list and saw that it sold for an eye-popping $350.... Feinberg, an economist by training, was even more appalled when the table ordered a second bottle.... “We were just stunned,” said Feinberg, who e-mailed TPM about her encounter later the same evening.... She snapped a few shots with her cell phone to record the wine purchase.... Members can also run into trouble if they accept more than $100 per year from anyone - even a friend. “Basically, you have a situation in which the person who bought the meal says I bought it on the basis of a personal friendship and if it’s under $100, you have to show the history of the relationship and some degree of reciprocity,” said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center. If the gift is more than $100, House rules require members to obtain written determination from the Ethics Committee on whether they can accept it or not.
After ending their meal and paying the check, Feinberg decided to give Ryan a piece of her mind. She approached the table and asked Ryan “how he could live with himself” sipping expensive wine while advocating for cuts to programs for seniors and the poor. Some verbal jousting between Feinberg and the other two men ensued. One of the two men said he had ordered the wine, was drinking it and paying for it. In hearing how much the wine cost, Ryan said only: “Is that how much it was?”
The clash became especially heated when Feinberg asked the men if they were lobbyists.
“F—— her,” one of them replied and stood up in a menacing way, according to Feinberg’s account. Feinberg said her husband then “puffed out his chest” in response before the manager and a waiter came over and Feinberg decided she had said her piece and it was time to leave.
Ryan does not dispute most of the details of Feinberg’s account, although he told TPM the two men are economists, not lobbyists, and characterized Feinberg as “crazy” and possibly drunk. For her part, Feinberg said she believes the economist at the table who got out his seat to challenge her was the one intoxicated....
The one major aspect of the story in dispute was the topic of conversation at Ryan’s dinner table. Feinberg said all three men were “droning on loudly during the evening that liberals think that if you’re a millionaire, you have done something wrong.” Ryan said the discussion focused on monetary policy and QE2, the Federal Reserve’s second round of quantitative easing, i.e. efforts to bolster the economy through the purchase of $600 billion in long-term U.S. Treasury bonds. TPM caught up with Ryan after a vote outside of the Speaker’s lobby. In further explaining his side of the story, Ryan said he only had one glass of wine out of the two bottles but decided when it came time to pay the bill that he should pay for one of the bottles of wine out of an abundance of caution. He even produced the receipt for the meal, which you can view here. The receipt shows a charge to Ryan’s credit card for $472 — $392 for his meal and the bottle of wine and a generous $80 tip.
“I didn’t order - they ordered,” Ryan told TPM. “I had one glass, uh, with my water, and when [Feinberg] was talking about how expensive it was, I didn’t even know [the price].”...
Ryan: “A.) I didn’t order it. B.) I had no idea what it would cost, and C.) …I bought one of these bottles even though I drank a glass, and I always pull my own weight for my meals.”
TPM: That was very smart. … But do you think it’s appropriate now that you know how much the wine cost to be drinking [such expensive wine] when you’re advocating cuts for seniors?
Ryan: “I think it’s stupid to pick up that much for a bottle of wine under any circumstance.”
TPM: But you had to pay for it…
Ryan: “Yeah, I was like this is ridiculous. Who buys wine that expensive? It surprised me, and I think it’s stupid under any circumstance to pay anything close to 100 dollars for a bottle of wine.
TPM: So you wouldn’t do it again?
Ryan: “Well, of course not, because I think it’s too much money to pay for wine. Yeah, I don’t really know what exactly it cost. It was expensive. But um, 250 maybe it was 250, I don’t really remember.”