Former president Gerald R. Ford, paying his annual visit to the National Press Club yesterday, showered praise on President Bush for his handling of the Soviet Union and China and some brickbats on his former Capitol Hill colleagues he said have "made the people's House {of Representatives} the incumbents' House."

Citing the 98 percent reelection rates for House incumbents in the last few elections, Ford called for measures to curb gerrymandering, reduce the role of political action committees (PACs) and slash congressional staffs. He said "it is totally unfair to challengers" that the typical House member has 19 people on his staff, a six-fold increase since he was first elected in 1949.

But Ford told the Press Club audience he opposed limiting terms for senators and representatives.

The former president gave strong support to Bush for his dealings with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and defended Bush's decision to offer trade concessions to the Soviet Union and China, despite the unresolved problems of Lithuania and human rights.

His only implied criticism of the president came on the question of how to discipline congressional spending. Ford said "there's not a prayer" Bush will get the constitutional amendment he is seeking for the line-item veto, permitting a president to strike individual matters in appropriations bills. But he said virtually the same thing could be accomplished by repealing the 1974 law limiting a president's power to impound -- refuse to spend -- appropriated funds, adding, "That only takes a majority vote."

Before his speech and question-answer session, the former president presented annual prizes of $5,000 each awarded by the Gerald R. Ford Foundation for distinguished reporting of the White House and the Pentagon. The winners were Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal and Debra Lynn Polsky of Defense News.