The Senate last night approved and sent to President Clinton the fiercely contested $30.2 billion crime bill after a half-dozen Republican moderates joined Democrats in beating back a GOP-led effort to block passage of the election-year measure.

With only one vote to spare, the Senate voted 61 to 39 to reject a procedural challenge supported by most Republicans that could have derailed the measure a second time -- less than a week after it had been brought back to life by a similar bipartisan rescue effort in the House.

Then, after clearing another procedural hurdle by a similar margin, the bill was given final approval, 61 to 38, and sent to Clinton, who had lobbied hard for its passage. The Senate then went home for a two-week recess, scaled back from four weeks because of disputes over crime and health care.

The vote gave a big boost to Clinton at a time when his health care bill was slipping away from him, enabling the president to claim credit for the biggest crime bill in history at a time when polls show that few issues energize voters more than fear of violent crime -- even though only about 5 percent of violent crime falls under federal jurisdiction.

But the ferocity and near-solidarity of the Republicans' attack seemed to signal that they see a lot to gain -- and little to lose -- in challenging the president, even on an issue such as crime.

Republicans also were looking to the November congressional elections, hoping, as part of their effort to regain control of the Senate, to trap Democrats into damaging votes that could be characterized as soft on crime. "We're going to focus the American people on all the ludicrous, ridiculous items in this bill ... we'll have some examples in the 30-second spots," said Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) in a scathing speech shortly before the final votes.

In an impassioned rejoinder, Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) chided Republicans for voting for the bill last November and against it yesterday and noted that Congress has been working on crime legislation since 1988. "Six years is long enough to consider any bill," he said.

Clinton, in a Rose Garden appearance early last evening and in a statement issued after final passage last night, portrayed the votes as a signal to the country that Washington can get something done. "This crime bill is going to make every neighborhood in America safer," Clinton said in the statement. "And the bipartisan spirit that produced it should give every American hope that we can come together to do the job they sent us here to do."

The bill -- which provides more money for police and prisons, toughens some criminal penalties and imposes a partial ban on assault weapons -- had strong support among Republicans when it first passed the Senate last November by a vote of 95 to 4. But Republicans contended it was weakened and fattened with "social pork" by House-Senate conferees and threatened to block it unless changes were made, including restoration of mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes and drug transactions involving minors.

The Democrats' victory was not assured until early yesterday when Mitchell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) devised what turned out to be a successful strategy to beat the Republicans at their own procedural game.

To counter Republican demands for votes on 10 amendments to cut spending for prevention programs and toughen penalty provisions, Mitchell and Biden, after consulting with Republicans on what it would take to break the impasse, offered a single amendment to cut the spending.

The amendment would have failed, and Republicans knew it. So Dole rejected it on behalf of his party, setting in motion the showdown vote.

With the earlier support of Republicans James M. Jeffords (Vt.), William V. Roth Jr. (Del.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.), the Democrats began the day with 58 votes, or two short. But Dole's rejection of the Democratic offer had the ironic effect of giving Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, his Kansas colleague, cause to bolt and vote with the Democrats. She was "disappointed that a majority of the Republican Party rejected {the offer} as inadequate," she said in a written statement shortly after the Republican decision was announced.

In the critical procedural vote, Jeffords, Roth, Specter and Kassebaum were joined by Republican Sens. John H. Chafee (R.I.) and John C. Danforth (Mo.). On the final vote, the six were joined by William S. Cohen (R-Maine). Among Democrats, only Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) voted with the Republicans on the procedural vote; Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a foe of capital punishment, joined Shelby in voting against the bill.

To show the administration's colors during the earlier vote, Vice President Gore was on hand to preside, with his foot -- in a cast following surgery for a torn Achilles' tendon -- propped up on pillows under his desk.

After the procedural vote, Mitchell and Biden praised the "courageousness" of the six Republicans and credited Clinton's steadfastness on the assault weapons provision as a key factor in keeping the bill alive despite its several near-collapses. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, the issue was "guns, guns, guns, guns and guns," said Biden.

But, despite the National Rifle Association's defeat on the issue, Mitchell was not ready to claim it had lost its clout. "An organization that can wield such enormous power with such an unpopular issue {defending assault weapons} cannot be discounted," he said.

Conservative Republicans expressed a sense of betrayal at the outcome. "We had the votes at 10 a.m. but not at 11 a.m." after the Democrats came out with their final proposal to win over the moderates, said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). "The leader {Dole} felt betrayed."

The centerpiece of the bill is a six-year $30.2 billion trust fund that is designed to help local governments hire 100,000 police officers, assist states in building new prisons and launch a variety of crime prevention programs.

The legislation also would vastly expand the number of federal crimes subject to the death penalty, impose life imprisonment on repeat violent offenders (the so-called three-strikes-and-you're-out rule) and allow notification of residents when violent sexual offenders are released into a community.

In a major defeat for the NRA, the bill also would ban 19 models of semiautomatic assault weapons and copycat versions, along with large gun clips. The NRA fought to defeat the bill because of the provision.

Although viewed at the start as a "must-pass" bill for an election year dominated by widespread anxiety over violent crime, the final House-Senate compromise faltered several times as it faced its final hurdles -- largely because of the political stakes involved.

lt was blocked earlier this month by a procedural move in the House, setting off 10 days of grueling negotiations that culminated in a 235 to 195 vote Sunday to pass the bill and send it to the Senate for final approval.

Even though the bill was saved in the House by a rare bipartisan agreement to cut prevention funding while adding money for prisons and police, it immediately ran into Republican demands for more changes when it hit the Senate floor Monday.

Insisting on stronger punishment provisions as well as elimination of nearly all the spending for prevention programs, which they labeled "social pork," Senate Republicans raised a procedural challenge aimed at opening the bill to amendment.

The challenge, which required 60 votes to overcome, was based on the fact that the trust fund to finance the new anti-crime programs had not gone through the Senate Budget Committee, as technically required by Senate rules.

Democrats said the challenge was potentially lethal to the crime bill because the legislation, if amended by the Senate, would have to go back to the House, where even the smallest change could shatter last weekend's fragile compromise and doom the whole measure.

Faced with the prospect of 41 Republican votes to sustain the challenge, Democrats began a frantic scramble to find a way to peel off at least some GOP moderates, who clearly were uncomfortable with the idea of voting against an anti-crime bill with an assault weapons ban.

By yesterday morning, the Democrats had it.

After a brief caucus, they offered the Republicans a chance to vote on one of their proposed amendments: to strip out all prevention programs except those involving domestic violence and anti-drug programs in prisons.

Claiming foul and demanding to vote as well on stronger penalty provisions, Republican leaders summarily rejected the offer.

But, as Democrats planned, the offer had its desired effect on wavering Republicans.

Within a couple of hours, Kassebaum issued a statement saying she supported the GOP efforts to change the bill but was disappointed that Republicans had rejected the offer.

"I believe a vote on social spending in the crime bill would have clearly delineated the differences in the two parties, and I think it is unfortunate that my Republican colleagues chose not to accept this offer," she said in a written statement.

The bill agreed to by the House and Senate totals $30.2 billion over six years.

* CRIME TRUST FUND: $30.2 billion

Savings from a cut of 252,000 federal jobs put in new trust fund for bill's programs. An additional $3.3 billion that would have been appropriated from other sources was eliminated. The fund targets four areas:

Police, $13.4 billion: Grants for localities to hire 100,000 officers for community policing, other law enforcement programs, more Border Patrol guards and other federal police agents. The version blocked by the House on Aug. 11 would have appropriated $13.2 billion.

Prisons, $9.9 billion: State grants, tied to tougher sentencing, to build prisons to house violent criminals and establish "boot camps" for young offenders. The original version would have appropriated $8.3 billion.

Prevention, $5.5 billion: Local grants for recreation, education, anti-gang and other programs to steer youth away from crime. Shelters to fight violence against women. The original version would have appropriated $7 billion.

Anti-drug efforts, $1.4 billion: Special courts to provide treatment and close monitoring of first-time, nonviolent drug offenders. Drug treatment for federal and state inmates. The original version would have appropriated $1.7 billion.

* ASSAULT WEAPONS

Bans 19 semiautomatic weapons and copycat models. Exempts 650 sporting rifles. Gun clips limited to 10 bullets.

* DEATH PENALTY

Increases from two to 60 the number of federal crimes punishable by death, such as fatal carjackings and drive-by shootings. Establishes procedures to resume federal executions.

* REPEAT OFFENDERS

Life in prison for three-time felons with last conviction for violent or drug-related federal crime.

* SEX OFFENDERS

Allows notification of residents when violent sexual offenders are released into a community. Such offenders must register quarterly with authorities for the remainder of their lives.

* JUVENILES

Federal prosecutions of 13-and 14-year-olds as adults allowed for some violent crimes. Ban on sale of handguns to juveniles.

* MANDATORY SENTENCING

Limited early releases from federal prisons permitted for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences.

* VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

Sex-based violence becomes a civil rights violation. Grants to encourage domestic violence arrests without consent of abuse victim. Federal penalties for interstate stalking or spouse abuse.

SOURCE: House-Senate conference committee