A House subcommittee voted yesterday to raise the federal minimum wage to $4.65 an hour over the next three years, but scrapped a controversial proposal to tie future increases to inflation.

The 6-to-3 vote by the subcommittee on labor standards appears to assure House passage of a minimum wage increase early next month.

The bill would increase the $3.35-an-hour minimum wage to $3.85 in 1989, $4.25 in 1990 and $4.65 in 1991. The legislation would also exempt from the law small businesses with incomes of less than $500,000 a year. The current small business exemption ceiling is $362,500 a year.

The most important decision yesterday was to drop the indexing proposal at the subcommittee level rather than waiting until the bill reached the House floor where the proposal could have been used as a bargaining chip to fend off amendments aimed at softening the minimum wage boost. The vote was 7 to 2 to drop indexing.

Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.), principal sponsor of the wage bill and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, warned subcommittee Democrats that he would try to reinstate the indexing proposal when the full committee took up the bill next week. "I assure you, this {vote} is not going to end it. This is a fight that is just begining," Hawkins said.

Committee Democrats are scheduled to caucus next Wednesday and take up the minimum-wage bill the next day. Republicans on the committee are expected to try either to lower the top rate or to make the $4.65 rate take effect later than 1991.

Subcommittee Republicans yesterday offered a complete substitute that would have lowered the top rate, exempted all businesses with fewer than 20 employees and created a sub-minimum training wage. It was rejected by a 6-to-3 vote along party lines.

Despite the warning from Hawkins and heavy lobbying pressure from organized labor, there appears to be little chance the indexing proposal will be restored either by the full committee or on the House floor.

Subcommittee Chairman Austin J. Murphy (D-Pa.) said yesterday that were indexing restored, the bill would be doomed. "My desire is to send legislation to the Senate and the president that we can reasonably expect to become law," Murphy said.

The indexing proposal has been the subject of an internal struggle among committee Democrats for more than a week. At a Tuesday caucus, subcommittee Democrats made it clear they were not willing to vote for something as controversial as indexing when they know it has no chance of surviving a vote by the full House.

At the caucus meeting the Democrats did agree to hold off any action on a proposal to change how much of the minimum wage can come from tips in the restaurant and hotel industries. The restaurant industry is lobbying hard to expand the tip credit allowance. Employers now count tips as 40 percent of the minimum wage and pay the remaining 60 percent.

Murphy indicated that the decision to leave the tip credit for consideration by the full committee was at least in part an effort to leave some room for negotiations among committee Democrats.