WASHINGTON -- Top Senate Democrats loudly objected Thursday to a plan by House Republicans that they said would eliminate 10,000 housing vouchers for homeless veterans this year.
Republicans proposed the cut to save $75 million from the 2011 federal budget.
"I believe it's immoral," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, urging House Republicans to abandon the plan.
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the proposal "astounding" and said the federal budget should not shortchange the most vulnerable Americans. She wants to eliminate homelessness among U.S. veterans.
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"We owe it to our veterans to provide them with the resources and support they need to put a roof over their heads," Murray said. "And this is just one more example of the Republicans' reckless budget that puts politics and ideology over families, communities and even those who have served and sacrificed for our nation."
Republicans defended the plan by noting that thousands of vouchers have gone unclaimed this year.
"The fact of the matter is there will not be a veteran, a homeless vet, that will not get a voucher," Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, said during a debate on the House floor. "The fact of the matter is there are 30,000 vouchers available today. Only 19,000 of those have been used. There are 11,000 vouchers waiting."
But Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, cited a recent federal report that said more than 76,000 veterans were homeless on any given night in the United States and that veterans are 50 percent more likely to be homeless.
"Yet the majority's bill turns its back on our homeless vets, leaving them literally out in the cold," Dicks said.
As Congress tries to reach agreement on spending reductions before March 18 -- when a stopgap spending bill runs out -- in order to avert a government shutdown, the program for homeless veterans is just one small example of the wide gulf between House and Senate leaders.
Murray, a veteran member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, got the $75 million included in a 2010 bill that provided funding for transportation, housing and urban development.
Each yearlong voucher is worth around $7,500, officials said.
Dicks said that Congress should expand the program to serve 60,000 veterans who would qualify for housing.
"There are 30,000 more that we need to do," he said, adding that he thinks Republicans may back down from their plan to cut the program.