Withering in the glare of aroused public opinion, Senate Republicans gave up their filibuster against the Brady bill Saturday night and, in a last-minute surprise, allowed it to pass 63-36.

Action on the bill was delayed for days by pro-gun senators, many of whom resisted to the bitter end a seven-year struggle to impose a five-day waiting period on handgun buyers.A way to the final positive vote was cleared when Democratic supporters of the bill agreed to a compromise that would eliminate the waiting period after four years, instead of five if the attorney general approves.

The bill - named for White House press secretary James Brady, who was disabled by the same gunman who wounded President Ronald Reagan in 1981 - was rushed to a House-Senate conference where it was expected to be approved and enacted into law before Congress adjourns on Monday.

The House had passed a similar bill last week.

In their rush to adjourn, senators also easily approved, by a 61-38 vote a landmark North American Free Trade Agreement.

That controversial trade deal, which lowers tariff barriers between the United States, Mexico and Canada won approval in the House last week.

As in the House, Senate Republicans led the voting for NAFTA. In the Senate 34 Republicans - including Utah's Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett - and 27 Democrats favored NAFTA. There were 28 Democrats and 10 Republicans opposed.

"We can choose to be a leader in today's global economy . . . or we can pass the baton of leadership to Japan and to Europe, and resign ourselves to a future as an economic also-ran," said minority leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.

"With the passage of this agreement, Congress affirms the leadership role of the United States in this hemisphere and around the world," said Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine.

The NAFTA and Brady bill votes came close to ending the Senate's business for the year. The Senate must resolve small differences with the House on the Brady bill before it adjourns. The House is expected to end its work by Tuesday.

On the Brady bill, Mitchell acknowledged the political and personal anguish that many senators had suffered on both sides of the issue.

"This has been painful and difficult for everyone," Mitchell said. "But this is also a significant success in the fight against crime."

Twice on Friday, Brady advocates fell short by three votes of capturing the 60 votes necessary to overcome a stubborn Republican-led filibuster, that appeared, until Saturday evening, to have sunk the bill for this year.

The Republicans mounted the filibuster after a Senate majority had rejected a National Rifle Association provision to wipe out all state laws calling for handgun purchase waiting periods, after the Brady bill went into effect.

After four years, the bill calls for the creation of a fully computerized national instant background checking system to be put in place.

The bill provides $100 million a year over the next four years to help states computerize criminal records and load them in a national file. Gun dealers then would be able to punch into that file by telephone and get an instant reading on whether a prospective buyer is eligible to purchase a handgun.

Compromise bills to extend unemployment benefits and provide the final multibillion-dollar installment of the savings and loan cleanup won Senate clearance for final House votes next week.

The House, meanwhile, debated legislation to make the District of Columbia the 51st state. The measure was widely expected to fail in a vote scheduled for Sunday.

Also, President Clinton's plan to overhaul health-care legislation was introduced in both the House, where it had 100 co-sponsors, and in the Senate, where it had 31.