Secretary Clinton on Capitol Hill

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepares to defend the State Department's work, particularly in Libya, at the House Foreign Affairs Committee Tuesday. The House's budget proposal calls for a 16 percent cut to the State Department's budget. (Photo by Alex Campbell/Medill News Service)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a break Tuesday from “around-the-clock” work on the situation in Libya to defend that work’s importance on Capitol Hill.

“Marathon diplomacy” has led to “quick, aggressive steps to pressure and isolate Libya’s leaders,” Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee during a hearing on Tuesday morning. The U.S. has frozen $30 billion in Moammar Gadhafi’s assets, and pledged to continue pressuring him until he steps down.

The non-stop news from the Middle East provided Clinton with a perfect pivot for the topic of the hearing: money priorities for the State Department and USAID, which would receive funding cuts of 16 percent and 41 percent respectively under the House-passed budget.

The latest moves on the Libyan government show the importance of combining strong diplomacy with development aid and military strength, Clinton told the committee. “It is the most effective — and cost-effective — way to sustain and advance our security across the world,” she said, and it’s only possible “with a budget that supports all the tools in our national security arsenal.”

“The stakes are high,” she continued, adding: “Now would be the wrong time to pull back.”

Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said the State Department’s work was not enough to justify the government borrowing more money than it can sustain. “How much less would an insolvent United States of America be able to do?” she said.

Lehtinen criticized the Obama administration’s decision to cut support to pro-democracy groups in Egypt before the revolution there, saying it was “a mistake we must never repeat.”

Questions on Iran and Afghanistan came up, as well as on the situation of CIA agent Raymond Davis, who was detained in Pakistan after allegedly shooting two people. Clinton told the committee that releasing Davis is “one of our highest priorities.”

The hearing wasn’t exclusively focused on the Middle East, though. Congressmen on both sides of the aisle had questions about issues all over the planet.

Two Republicans, Chris Smith of New Jersey and Dana Rohrabacher of California, pressed Clinton on whether the administration had properly raised the issue of forced abortion with China.

Clinton got questions on the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, the earthquake in New Zealand, and the regime in Venezuela. She also heard from the non-voting delegate from American Samoa, Democrat Eni Faleomavaega, who said the administration hadn’t reacted quickly enough to a crisis in Easter Island.

Congressmen did bring up the proposed budget cuts, often as an addendum to the global issue they were talking about. Donald Payne, D-N.J., asked whether the cuts would impair the State Department’s efforts to help South Sudan’s transition to independence.

Clinton agreed, of course, saying the cuts would have “a dramatic impact on our ability to wield our power.”

Several congressmen praised Clinton’s “energy” in traveling all over the globe. “I’ve now traveled more than any secretary of state in the past two years,” she noted breathlessly.

Clinton was often cut off from delivering her statements, as both she and the congressmen asking questions went on too long.

As Clinton was noting that China had jammed broadcasts of her recent speech on internet freedom, for example, Ros-Lehtinen cut her off. “Sorry to jam you, Madame Secretary,” she said.