CONGRESS took a pounding from the White House podium the other night. President Reagan blamed Congress for undercutting his administration's initiatives in Lebanon. He criticized Congress as ''not helpful'' in his efforts to provide quick military aid to El Salvador. He claimed Congress frustrated the will of ''the overwhelming majority of the people,'' who favor school prayer, by discussing ''mandatory'' instead of voluntary school worship. And he struck back at congressional ''accusers'' when asked about the series of officials who have left his administration under clouds of impropriety.
What went unsaid was that the opposition in each case came not just from the Democrats in Congress, but as notably from Republicans. And there were sharp divisions within his own administration as well.
This was certainly true of Lebanon, where the Department of Defense and military leadership argued against the State Department and deployment of Marines in Lebanon. The leader of the opposition to school prayer in the Senate was a Republican. Again in the Senate, GOP and Democratic leaders joined in asking for a special prosecutor to review charges raised during hearings on Ed Meese's nomination as attorney general. In Central America, Mr. Reagan's initiatives for Salvadorean aid, maneuvers in Honduras, and covert operations in Nicaragua, have not been halted by Congress.
On the leading economic issue, the deficit, both chambers of the legislature and both parties are putting together deficit-reduction packages - taking the lead, in effect, after the administration's budget was disowned by the White House itself early this year, and widely discounted in financial circles.
Politically, Congress itself is not in bad shape, particularly in the House. Congress expert Thomas Mann says there will be fewer close races than usual in November. In 1980 there were about 70 close races for the 435 House seats.
This year the close contests could total fewer than 50. The reason: fewer GOP challenges to Democratic incumbents. Ordinarily, 9 out of 10 congressional incumbents run again, and better than 8 in 10 are reelected. The picture in the Senate is a little tougher for the Republicans, but GOP control of the chamber might not be threatened.
So Congress can absorb some criticism.