Legislation that would have ended Congress' ability to hold the semi-annual debt-celing bill hostage to political shenanigans was defeated in the House yesterday, apparently with the backing of the administration and the Democratic leadership.

The House first voted 277 to 132 to reject the proposal, which would have provided for automatic approval of debt-ceiling increases as part of the annual congressional budget resolution, which sets formal targets for spending and tax receipts.

In then voted 248 to 165 to turn down a proposed $72 billion increase in the present debt limit, which must be raised by March 31 for the government to continue its day-to-day financing. House leaders now must push through a new debt-ceiling bill or risk fiscal chaos.

Approval of the measure would have amounted to a small, but significant "reform" of present procedures. Because members know the debt-ceiling legislation eventually must pass in some form, it frequently has been used as a vehicle for political maneuvering.

For example, because members are confident the debt measure won't be vetoed, they often have used it to push through otherwise-controversial legislation. On the other hand, the two houses sometimes have defeated debt-ceiling legislation to protest some administration action.

House leaders apparently argued yesterday against eliminating the present debt-ceiling-increase procedure, on grounds that shifting the whole process to the congressional budget resolution might endanger passage of that measure when it comes up.