Congress, laboring to clear the way for adjournment today, yesterday approved President Reagan's $200 billion appropriations bill for defense and moved toward enactment of a Democratic bill to restore minimum Social Security benefits for 3 million current recipients.
Still awaiting action, with no assurance of final approval before the long Christmas recess, were a controversial administration-backed farm bill, legislation making it illegal to disclose the names of intelligence agents and an assortment of lesser measures. All could be shunted aside in the final rush toward home.
As both houses moved by fits and starts, zipping through major bills in minutes and dawdling over minor ones, there were these other developments:
* With no debate, the House by voice vote gave itself and the Senate early Christmas gifts, doubling the roughly $9,000 a year that House members can earn from speeches and other outside activities and clearing the way for members of both chambers to deduct more of their Washington living expenses in figuring their taxes. The tax legislation awaits Senate action, perhaps today.
* The Senate approved, 55 to 42, and sent to the House a compromise foreign aid authorization bill that would give Reagan a qualified victory in freeing the administration's hand in providing assistance to countries once barred from receiving it.
* Both the House and Senate approved appropriations bills for agriculture and military construction, moving Congress past the halfway point in approval of appropriations bills for the current fiscal year. With passage of these two bills and the defense money bill, Congress had approved nine of its 13 regular appropriations, leaving the rest of the government to be funded by the so-called "continuing resolution" signed yesterday by Reagan. The agriculture bill provided $21.3 billion, and $7.1 billion was approved for military construction.
The $200 billion defense appropriations bill, approved 334 to 84 by the House and 93 to 4 by the Senate, is the largest in history, the first installment of Reagan's enormous program to "rearm America."
It gives Reagan the two big new strategic weapons systems he wants: the MX missile and the B1 bomber, along with billions of dollars worth of other military hardware and money to start work on the new radar-proof Stealth bomber.
The defense compromise worked out by House and Senate negotiators falls about $1 billion below Reagan's request, although a supplemental money bill to fund military pay raises and other expenses may more than make up the difference before the 1982 fiscal year ends.
The House had approved $197.4 billion for defense, the Senate $208.7 billion, with most of the difference resulting from the fact that the Senate, unlike the House, included money for pay raises and for inflation and cost overruns. Both chambers had agreed earlier to the MX missile and B1 bomber.
The bill is about $28 billion more than the appropriation for fiscal '81.
The Social Security bill, which restores the $122-a-month minimum benefit for all retirees who qualify by Dec. 31, was, as Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) put it, a Democratic victory at a time when the party's "victories appear to be scarce."
The Democrats made such a point of the issue, portraying Congress' earlier repeal of the benefit as an example of Republican efforts to balance the budget on the backs of poor and elderly people, that the defensive GOP-controlled Senate approved the restoration yesterday, 96 to 0. The Democratic House is expected to approve the bill today.
While supporting the bill, Senate Republicans bemoaned the fact that it fell short of paying for itself. A compromise worked out by House-Senate conferees picked up $4.4 billion by imposing the Social Security tax on sick leave payments, but this fell $1.8 billion short of the total cost of restoring the minimum benefit, which goes to people whose contributions to the system while working were so low they would otherwise be entitled to less.
The bill also would permit stopgap borrowing among Social Security trust funds to keep the old-age retirement system afloat, but only through Dec. 31, 1982, meaning that Congress must face the Social Security financing issue again next year, possibly in a post-election session.
"It's a travesty to suggest we have fulfilled our responsibilities," said Sen. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Social Security.
But Byrd got in the final political word in saying the bill takes "a major step toward helping the president to begin to keep his campaign pledge" to protect Social Security.
The minimum benefit was repealed as one of Reagan's many budget cuts last summer, setting off a protest that led to the move to restore it. But it was restored only for an estimated 3 million current recipients and several thousand more who will qualify for it by the end of the year, meaning that all future retirees will get only the benefits to which their earnings entitle them.
The huge four-year farm bill was hanging in limbo last night in the House, with a bipartisan coalition of farm and consumer interests threatening its passage when it comes up for a vote today, as scheduled.
"The farm bill, it's in trouble," said House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.). "You can't find a city person who will vote for the thing," said Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.).
Farm-bloc lawmakers contend that the bill, containing many cost-cutting provisions advocated by the administration, contains insufficient protection for farmers, who are facing rising costs and falling incomes.
Consumer interests are attacking resumption of sugar price supports and other provisions they say will benefit agribusiness while other government programs are being cut. The bill, a compromise negotiated in a House-Senate conference, has passed the Senate.