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Is Washington applying a double standard when it comes to defaulted loans? Does it worry only about certain kinds of deadbeats but not about others?

There's room for wondering in view of the way Washington - which keeps trying to crack down on former students who don't repay their school loans - turns a blind eye to other Americans who owe the government money.We're referring to recipients of the little-known federal program that lets U.S. embassies and consulates around the world lend money to American tourists who have run out of cash.

The embassy can advance a hapless tourist enough to buy a ticket home. Later, the loan is supposed to be repaid. But the default rate on the loans is 80 percent.

That's why Rep. Bill Orton of Utah persuaded the House of Representatives to adopt an amendment to the fiscal 1994 appropriations bill for the State Department that cut $590,000 out of the $776,000 program.

Though it can be argued that the cutback went too far, at least it sent a pointed and pertinent message: Either make the deadbeats pay up or stop turning a loan program into a giveaway.

But Orton's victory didn't last long. A few days ago, the Senate Appropriations Committee restored the funds cut by the House. Unhappily, the committee's move also sends a message: The lost revenue isn't worth the trouble it would take to collect it.

If this exercise in fiscal irresponsibility is allowed to stand, Washington can expect it to become harder to collect on various other federal loan programs - and there's a long list of them.