A House subcommittee, looking for ways to cut the $1 billion budget for the legislative branch, came across an unexpected candidate yesterday - the 36,000 free mail subscribers to the Congressional Record.

Free subscriptions, which make up the bulk of the Record's 47,000 circulation, are handed out by each member of Congress - senators each get 100 to give away, House members 68.

Another 3,500 capies are circulated free, most of them on Capitol Hill. Each member has 16 copies delivered to his office daily, Congressional committees get copies, 439 copies go to the House Chamber and one is on the desk of every Senator in that chamber.

They only paid copies go to government agencies and 4,000 paying subscribers.

"What would we save?" Rep. Bob Traxler (D-Mich.) asked Public Printer Thomas F. McCormick yesterday morning, "if we eliminated the [congressioanl] designees?"

"About $5 million to $2 million," McCormick replied.

Subcommittee chairman George Shiplcy (D-Ill.), who had opened the meeting with the hope that the congressional budget could be cut, smiled.

By Late yesterday, however, it looked like the budget cutters might search elsewhere to save money.

Traxler called the Record "a valuable tool to the public" and hoped out loud that Congress would not "overreact" to charges that it is overspending.

"I don't derive any benefit from those 68," Traxler said of the people on his list. He asked an aide to give him the names. "We only send it to people who ask," he said.

Running down the list, which totaled only 57, Traxler found 16 schools or libraries.

"Gee, here's someone from Virginia and here's my opponent [from last November's election]."

Traxler also found "the head of a local John Birch Society, and editorial writer, a General Motors official, a lawyer and a local Chamber of Commerce."

For most members, the free Record list is a hodgepodge of names - some of them journalists.

The Washington Post national desk, for example, receives a free copy each day but no one was able to say yesterday when it started or from which legislator it comes.

The Post's national editor receives a copy at home courtesy of a senator; this writer sees a copy at home thanks to a congressman.

One congressional office, which asked not to be named, said its list included "journalists, librarians, lobbyists and busybodies."

Public Printer McCormick told the House members that even the 4,000 paying subscribers to the Record are "subsidized."

The annual cost per subscription, McCormick said, was $161 while the price charged each subscriber was only $45 a year.

The Record provides a verbatim transcript of the proceedings each day on the floor of the House and Senate. It also contains insertions of material by members that can range from newspaper and magazine articles to their own speeches.

Every day Congress is in session, according to McCormick, the Record runs more words than three major daily newspapers.

Subcommittee chairman Shipley introduced another possible budget cut in the Public Printer's products, though it, too, may not be received with open arms by his colleagues.

"I was surprised," Shipley said, "to see the list of publications made a vailable (free) to members by law."

Shipley then rattled off that each member received 2,000 copies of a slick book entitled "The U.S. Capitol"; House members also get 500 full size copies of the Constitution and another 500 pocket size. He directed McCormick to determine the cost of supplying those and others on a long list of free publications.

Traxler said after the hearing that the subcommittee could cut off money for the free Records or the special publications but it was more likely it would recommend the House Administration Committee look into the whole matter.