What started out the other day as an attempt to save federal funds soon turned into an exercise in sex discrimination.

When the smoke finally cleared, however, the episode ended up as a continued rip-off of all taxpayers just because this nation's lawmakers won't get off the gravy train they have been riding for so many years.It happened during debate in the House of Representatives over a $1.7 billion bill for the operation of Congress.

Noting a $375,000 item in the measure for renovation of the House beauty salon, Rep. Harris W. Fawell of Illinois suggested that this provision be eliminated as an economy move.

But the provision was retained after female House members pointed out that the proposed cut would put the House in the position of subsidizing haircuts for male lawmakers but not for 29 women members of the 435-member House.

It never seems to have occurred to anyone in Washington to eliminate both subsidies.

The House barbershop for men is run by barbers who are on the payroll as employees of Congress at salaries of $25,300 to $40,700 a year and are covered by the same health and retirement benefits as regular staff members. The shop gives haircuts at prices below those charged by private barbers. No wonder the operation lost $110,000 last year.

Though the beauticians in the House beauty shop earn an average of only $12,000 a year, are not congressional employees and pay their own benefits from the shop's earnings, the shop still occupies rent-free space in a House office building and still does work at below-market prices.

As long as Congress insists on operating subsidized barbershops and beauty parlors, it's the taxpayers who will keep getting trimmed.