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Paul Ryan Faces Criticism for Pricey $350 Wine Purchase

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The House Budget Committee's ranking Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., listens to comments on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 15, 2010, during the committee's markup on the Reconciliation Act of 2010. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan and his party were accosted by a Rutgers Professor at a swanky Capital Hill restaurant Wednesday night for their choice to order two $350 bottles of wine with their meal.

"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, the most expensive wine in the house along with one other with the same pricetag.

Feinberg, an economist by training, was even more appalled when the table ordered a second bottle. She quickly did the math and figured out that the $700 in wine the trio consumed over the course of 90 minutes amounted to more than the entire weekly income of a couple making minimum wage."

The event took place on the same night that reports began to surface that the President was pressing Congressional leaders to consider changes to Social Security and Medicare, something Ryan has pushed for his entire career, in exchange for GOP support for targeted tax increases.

Ryan dined with two economist friends, and denied Feinberg's belief that they were lobbyists. Aware of ethics rules barring members from accepting anything of value from lobbyists and even anything more than $100 per year from friends, Feinberg documented the Republican Budget Committee Chairman's meal.

After taking photos of the table and wine, Feinberg, admittedly soaked in half a bottle of wine herself, proceeded to initiate a scene at the restaurant.

"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."

Aside from the profession of his friends, Ryan does not dispute most of Feinberg's claim. Ryan added in an interview with TPM that he would characterize Feinberg as "crazy" and possibly drunk. Feinberg claims she believed the economist with Ryan at his table was intoxicated.

Ryan claims that his guests made the wine choice, and that he had just a single glass. When Ryan learned of the wine's price he admitted it was "stupid" to pay that much for a bottle of wine, and said he would make sure not to do so again.

Despite only drinking a single glass, Ryan picked up the tab for a whole bottle along with his share of the meal. Upon request Ryan provided TPM a copy of his receipt from the meal, showing a charge to Ryan's credit card for $472 -- $392 for his meal and the bottle of wine and a generous $80 tip.

Some commentators have come to Ryan's defense in the Winegate fiasco, Mediate's Tommy Christopher:

"Be that as it may, I think we all have the right to eat dinner without being annoyed by some other patron of the same upscale restaurant (the federal minimum wage won’t even get you a plate of fries at Bistro Bis) who thinks we’re spending too much on dinner."

Well said. Ryan estimates his net worth at $2.4 million and while he definitely is not slumming it, the Wisconsin Congressman is far from the likes of Sen. John Kerry's $188.37 million Heinz fortune and Rep. Darrell Issa's $160.05 million. Do you think it's fair to criticize how public officials spend their own money, no matter how posh their purchases may be?

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