Paul Ryan stimulates economy, Left goes wild.
Over at Talking Points Memo, gossip columnist Susan Crabtree received a tip from a Rutgers associate business professor (this is important later) that Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan happened to be enjoying an expensive bottle of wine Wednesday night. Ok, not one bottle. Two.
Here’s the scoop (the emphases are mine):
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.
It was the same night reports started trickling outabout President Obama pressing Congressional leaders to consider changes to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for GOP support for targeted tax increases.
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.
That’s how the TPM hit job begins. Because Paul Ryan believes government should live within its means, he can’t buy a $350 bottle of wine. Well, let’s see. According to Ryan’s most recently available tax returns, he’s worth anywhere from $590,000 to $2.4 million, which means that two bottles of wine at $350 each is somewhere between .02916% and .11864% of his total net worth (thanks to Serr8d for the updated %). Clearly, he’s drinking the cheap stuff.
And if Ryan and his two other dinner associates went dutch (this becomes important later), then the wine purchase is a fraction of that (approx. 1/3, according to my math).
So then, some nosy person decided to perk up when she saw the presentation of the wine.
Back to the hit piece (again, my emphases):
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.
“We were just stunned,” said Feinberg, who e-mailed TPM about her encounter later the same evening. “I was an economist so I started doing the envelope calculations and quickly figured out that those two bottles of wine was more than two-income working family making minimum wage earned in a week.”
She was outraged that Ryan was consuming hundreds of dollars in wine while Congress was in the midst of intense debates over whether to cut seniors’ safety net, and she didn’t know whether Ryan or his companions was going to pay for the wine and whether the two men were lobbyists. She snapped a few shots with her cell phone to record the wine purchase.
First, the price of the wine is hardly eye-popping if the threshold of your net worth is near $600,000. Trust me, Ryan is living well within his means here.
Also, here’s where we learn the nosy diner in question is an economist. Big effing deal, right? Right. Her background as an economist allowed here to quickly add up $350 + $350 = ??? >>> maybe she even did it in her head.
Feinberg is right. A couple working 40 hours a week on minimum wage (80 hours total) would gross $580. But what’s that got to do with anything? If Ryan’s net worth were broken down hourly, he’d earn anywhere from $295 to $1,154 an hour. In the 90 minutes Ryan and his friends sat at the restaurant, he’d make more than enough to pay for one bottle — maybe even two.
But that’s the sneaky part. Miss Crabtree slides that bit of wealth envy into the column like it matters. It doesn’t. At all.
What Feinberg and columnist Crabtree were really outraged about is Ryan’s political ideology. He’s conservative. That – in and of itself – is a crime.
The part about lobbyists. Let’s hold that thought. Back to the story:
Feinberg knew if the men were lobbyists, or worked for a firm or company that employs lobbyists, then paying for such expensive wine would be a violation of Congressional ethics rules barring members from accepting anything of value from lobbyists.
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.
You like how she did that? IF Ryan’s dinner dates were lobbyists… No substantiation whatsoever to prove her assertion. But it’s enough to plant that seed of doubt.
But maybe they were just Paul Ryan’s school buddies. Fraternity brothers. Well, that’s probably illegal, too. (Nevermind we later learn Paul Ryan pays…)
Back to the story:
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?”
After dinner, our economist friend goes over to interrupt another group’s dinner. Right. She then becomes immediately hostile. “HOW COULD YOU LIVE WITH YOURSELF?!” she demands, like a petulant child.
As if his dinner decision had ANYTHING to do with “the poor” or “seniors.” His only response was, “Is that how much it was?” (Right, because he made more than that just sitting there having dinner.)
Back to the story:
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.
“It was my birthday, and I’d had half a bottle of great wine with dinner,” she wrote in an e-mail to TPM. “I wasn’t drunk, but I was certainly emboldened to speak my mind.”
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.”
What in the Hell business is it of hers who these men are? She interrupted their dinner.
Ryan doesn’t dispute the details because these men had every right to be offended some nosy liberal with an economic (remember, she’s an economist) chip on her shoulder barged into their dinner and started demanding answers and shaming them for their wine selection.
Yes, Miss Feinberg. F(dash)(dash)(dash) YOU!
My favorite part is when Ryan characterized Feinberg as “crazy” — and possibly drunk. I would assume a better word to use would be hysterical, which is how passionate liberals get when they set their sights on a conservative target. I see it all too often.
And I don’t know about you, but half a bottle of wine gets me drunk. Hell, half a box of Franzia gets me drunk. I can handle beer and liquor, but wine… Yea, she was drunk. She admits it there.
While she refuses to say she was drunk, using certainly emboldened is proof she was at least tipsy.
And it’s no secret that the Left uses wealthy Americans as their own personal punching bag-slash-ATM (damn those ATMs for takin’ our jerbs!). So, why would it be any surprise that this kind of conversation would come up among conservatives.
But-wait-there’s-more! TPM stalked down Congressman Ryan and asked him about dinner:
Ryan said his two “friends” are economists, not lobbyists, but would not give their names to TPM. He said one of the men is an economist “he reads a lot” and the two have conversed before so he invited him to Washington so they could meet.
“I read a lot about this economist. I’ve enjoyed what he’s written. I wanted to pick his brain … so that’s what we did,” Ryan explained.
When asked more directly whether he thought it was appropriate to be ordering $350 wine while pushing for cuts to benefits for seniors and the poor, Ryan conceded that it’s “stupid” to pay that much for a bottle of wine and said he wouldn’t do so again.
Friends in quotes. WTF? And once again, what the HELL business is it who he had dinner with? This was a man on his private time grabbing dinner with folks. Sheesh.
I still don’t get it. What’s the relationship between buying wine and legislation? It doesn’t make any sense.
There’s a snippet of the transcript of Ryan’s interview with TPM. You should read it.
But the column is sort of self-fulfilling in a way. Feinberg asserts that Ryan and his associates were demonizing the perception that liberals hate the wealthy, AND THEN Feinberg goes off on the wealthy while they’re at dinner. But no, she doesn’t stop there. She then contacts TPM – a bastion of objective reporting, for sure – to continue her hatred of people who can afford $350 bottles of wine.
It’s almost too perfect. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
I’ve held off to the end to grab a drink, but I think I’m going to saunter down to the kitchen, grab a solo cup, and fill it to the brim with the Franzia I’ve got. Here’s to you, Chairman Ryan.
Oh, I found that Erick Erickson already wrote about this, while I was enjoying a movie. Check that out.
UPDATE I: Moe Lane has a great post about what this story should really be about. Ryan tipped the waiter 20%. Not 10%. Not 15%. Not 18%. 20%.
UPDATE II: I shot a quick note to Dr. Feinberg to see if she’d tell me how much her dinner cost, since her salary is paid by the taxpayers of New Jersey.
UPDATE III: Byron York has some comments in the Washington Examiner, and I chime in yet again.