WASHINGTON — With upheaval spreading across the Middle East, now is the wrong time for proposed cuts to the State Department budget, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday.

A 16 percent hit to State Department funding in the 2011 continuing budget resolution passed by the House of Representatives last week would undermine progress made toward democracy in countries such as Egypt and Libya, Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies at a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Photo by Rebecca Cohen/Medill News Service)

“Everywhere I travel, I see people looking to us for leadership,” Clinton said. “This is a source of strength, a point of pride and a great opportunity for the American people. But it is an achievement, not a birthright.”

The budget the State Department has requested for 2012 would preserve the $47 billion core budget currently allotted to the department and add about $4 billion to the $4.7 billion it currently spends on overseas contingency operations.

This funding would allow the department to continue promoting American values, as it has by providing food and medical supplies to people in the countries currently undergoing uprisings, Clinton said. It would also help support diplomatic efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq and “investments in human security” such as programs to fight disease and hunger, she said.

Clinton sought to highlight the long-term economic benefits the United States would experience from the investments her department’s budget proposal advocated. Spending an extra $4 billion to help civilians take the wheel in Iraqi conflict resolution will reduce military costs by $45 billion from their 2010 level.

“Every business owner I know would gladly invest $4 to save $45,” Clinton said.

The assassination this morning of Pakistani minority affairs minister Shabaz Bhatti, a Christian, proves the United States cannot withdraw its resources from efforts such as promoting global religious tolerance, Clinton said.

If funding for the State Department does decrease, it will jeopardize America’s ability to maintain its ascendency, Clinton said. Missions the House budget proposal would not support, such as meeting with Pacific island nations to address their fears that rising ocean levels will flood them, are vital to promoting U.S. influence in those countries.

“Let’s just talk straight realpolitik,” she said. “We are in a competition with China.”

Sen, John Kerry, D-Mass., the committee’s chairman, also

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry also warns against cutting State Department funding. (Photo by Rebecca Cohen/Medill News Service)

spoke against slashing State Department funding. In addition to hurting the democratic movements in the Middle East, the proposed cuts, which include slicing global humanitarian aid in half, would leave more than 400,000 HIV patients without treatment and strip the world’s poorest children of food and education, Kerry said.

“There’s something about these cuts that I think does violence to the Judeo-Christian ethic by which so many people claim to be guided,” Kerry said.