Remember the old tag line for Levy’s rye bread? It was “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.”

Similarly, you don’t have to be a fisherman to recognize a red herring when you see one. That species of fish was quite in evidence as President Bush vetoed the bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and then picked up the drumbeat as the House took a couple of weeks to get ready to vote on overriding his veto.

The redness of the herring was so bright it was almost neon. What was it? It was the president’s pronouncement that this bill to expand the program to 10 million kids would be the first step down the sorry road to socialized medicine in this country–a situation where the government would (sooner than you know) be running the health care delivery system.

Nobody believes this.

It is almost as if the president had decided to resurrect what was a particularly powerful weapon from 15 years ago to see if it still could shoot. Well, it seems as if the gun still could cough out a bullet, maybe two. But pretty soon, that old gun is going to be shooting blanks.

Could all the groups that supported the legislation and that have a strong stake in keeping health care out of the government’s hands–including none other than America’s Health Insurance Plans–really have been so duped that they failed to see that it represented, as the president asserted, the first step down the road to misery?

Very unlikely.

More likely is that such an argument was a cover for not wanting to cover poor kids. But this would sound awful, wouldn’t it? So dress it up with a bit of apocalyptical nonsense and wham! you’ve created a rallying point.

For the life of me I simply cannot understand how the president could veto this bill. We’re talking, after all, about a $30 billion difference between his $5 billion proposal and the legislation’s addition of $35 billion to the program. And that’s over 5 years!

That amount is such a small blip in the federal budget that it is preposterous.

If we cannot invest in our children’s health then we really have lost something as a nation.

There is a troubling consistency that becomes evident here when you look at the administration’s stance on SCHIP and its utterly adamantine stance against including group life insurance in the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act’s extension.

Are commercial structures really more important than the people who work in them?

Both SCHIP and TRIA with group life are at bottom protection for people and both pieces of legislation would do so at a relatively small cost to taxpayers.

SCHIP expansion has an unusual amount of bipartisan backing with even some high-profile Republicans blasting the White House. So this is not a one-party issue, as much as the administration would like to paint it as such.

I have no doubt that we will see the enactment of a bill that significantly expands the SCHIP program to something very close to what Congress wants. Already it’s been reported that the administration has signaled it is willing to “compromise” on a $20 billion expansion, a point halfway between its $5 billion and Congress’s $35 billion.

That figure–thank goodness!–doesn’t start to take us down the road to a government takeover of health care delivery.

If your nostrils are starting to twitch, it’s because the red herring was left out too long and is starting to stink.