A $1.7 billion Metro rail construction bill, which would assure federal money to complete the full 101-mile subway system, easily passed the House yesterday despite an unexpected last-minute effort by the Carter administration to defeat it.

The White House opposed the bill on the grounds that it gives too much money to a single city. But the bill passed by a lopsided vote of 261 to 125.

"I feel the president will be embarrassed tomorrow morning" when he sees the margin of passage, House District Committee Chairman Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), the bill's floor leader, said last night.

But the administration's opposition - plus wider opposition in the House to the bill's provision calling for a federal subsidy of the subway's operating costs - could lessen its chances of passage in the Senate.

Metro general manager Richard S. Page nevertheless hailed the vote statement that assures completion of the system. It commits the federal government to a nine-year construction program to finish the full system. We can now see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Thirty-one miles of the subway are in operation, and 29 additional miles have been funded or are under construction.

The $1.7 billion construction appropriation approved yesterday would cover the U.S. government's share of building the last 41 miles. Before any of the 80 percent federal share is released, local governments must demonstrate that they have a "stable and reliable source" for providing their 20 precent of the money.

The separate operating subsidy, sought because of the special federal interest in Metro stops at Arlington Cemetery, the Pentagon, the Smithsonian and other tourist attractions, would begin with $20 million in 1981 and increase 6 percent each year through 1988, for a total $197.7 million.

A third provision calls for the federal government to pay two-thrids of the cost of the retiring the original construction bonds.

At a champagne party in his office, Rep. Herbert E. Harris II (D-Va.), who cosponsored the bill with Rep. Fortney H. (Pete) Stark (D-Cal.), said the 2-1 margin "will help us in the Senate." But Harris conceded that "there's no question there will be trouble" about the provisions for $197.7 million in operating subsidies.

Rep. Robert E. Duncan (D-Ore.) said during floor debate yesterday that he has "great reservations" about the $20 million annual operating subsidy and that funding won't come automatically.

Dunan's transportation appropriations subcommittee next year will pass on the appropriations authorized by yesterday's bill.

Unlike his five predecessors, President

The first indication that the administration would actively try to defeat the bill came yesterday morning when House members received the weekly legislative summary from the Democratic Study Group.

A commentary attached to an explanation of the bill said "the administration opposes the bill on grounds that it contains a disproportionately high amount of mass transit construction assistance to one city and substantially increases federal outlays in the 1981-99 period."

Just as word of that attack spread among supporters, some House members were getting telephone calls from White House and Office of Management and Budget lobbyists urging defeat of the bill.

Rep. Harold T. (Bizz) Johnson, chairman of the House Public works and Transportation Committee, said a White House liaison officer asked him to oppose the bill. Johnson said he told the Carter representative that "our committee favors the bill, and I do personally. The sooner we get Metro built, the better."

Harris said the bill "lost no more than 20 votes" as a result of the miniblitz by the White House. Harris said, "You don't pass $1.7 billion legislation in an economy-minded Congress by a 2-1 margin" unless the cause is just.

Dellums, Stark, Harris and other supporters of the legislation were especially disturbed at the manner in which the Carter opposition surfaced.

"Twelve hours after the President makes a speech to the nation saying he wants another $10 billion for mass transportation, his aides are running around trying to block this bill," Dellums said.

There was little mention of the White House effort during the two hours of debate on the House floor. No Democrat mentioned it. Rep. Barber B. Conable Jr. (R-N. Y.) said, "I wonder if this bill is not premature" in light of Carter's speech.

Conable was answered by Rep. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.), the ranking minority member of the District Committee, who said OMB "has ceased to be the Office of Management and Budget and is rather the office of management."

An administration spokesman said the decision to actively oppose the bill was made "after we reviewed it two or three times last week." He said he wanted to emphasize that the administration doesn't oppose funds for Metro construction "but wants to pull back and reassess" how the legislation fits in with plans Carter voiced Sunday night.

The same administration spokesman said opposition to the bill does not affect last week's decision by Transportation Secretary Brock Adams to release $1.2 billion in federal funds that will provide the U. S. share of the construction money through 1982. Money in yesterday's Stark-Harris bill would pick up when the other money - a credit to the region for urban highways that were never built - runs out.

The question of whether Adams supported the $1.7 billion appropriation was still being debated last night.

A DOT spokesman said Adams "favors the Metro funding bill," but Bill Cable, a White House lobbyist on the Hill, insisted that "this bill was never endorsed by the secretary."

Cable said a letter released by Adams last week "indicated that some (new) legislation is needed" but that Adams did not specificially endorse the Stark-Harris bill.

The language being debated was in Adams' letter to D. C. Councilman Jerry A. Moore Jr., Metro Board chairman. It said: "We recognize that a new congressional authorization will be necessary to fund completion of the system" beyond the $1.2 billion he released last week.

Adams could not be reached for comment.

Whatever the reason for the opposition, the reason for the bill's strong support was illustrated by Rep. Don Bonker (D-Wash.), who pulled aside Metro general manager Page a few minutes before yesterday's vote and asked, "When will Metro get to my stop, at Tenley Circle?"

Given the answer privately, Bonker went into the House chamber and voted for the construction bill.