WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Hilary Clinton defended the State Department’s tight 2013 budget Tuesday, saying the  agency had to make “difficult trade-offs and painful cuts.”

“The request represents an increase of less than the rate of inflation and just over 1 percent of the federal budget, even as our responsibilities multiply around the world,” she said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The proposed 2013 spending plan is $54.7 billion, an increase of 2.6 percent from this year.

While Clinton said the budget would reduce expenditures going to Eastern Europe and Central Asia, it would increase money for areas in the Middle East and Africa.

“Arab revolutions have given rise to a new economic power,” Clinton said. Spreading the aid accordingly will “be a proven investment in our national and economic safety.”

One of the first priorities is trying to maintain security in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, she said.

Although Clinton said this money would help fund the ongoing transitions in Iraq and Afghanistan, lawmakers argued that the money would produce limited results.

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., referred to the State Department’s $4.8 billion request for the huge U.S. Embassy in Iraq as evidence.

“It’s a symbol of grandiose and unrealistic ambitions in that country,” Leahy said. “And the cost of providing security and day-to-day needs of employees is five times more costly.”

To help build democracy and broad-based economic growth throughout the world, Clinton said another portion of the budget – some $770 million — would be put aside for an “incentive fund.”

Clinton said last year the administration had to scramble to take $360 million from existing programs to support U.S. objectives in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

“We sent a clear message to these new Arab transformations that we are on their sides,” she said. “We are now asking for some of that flexibility.”

Clinton compared the new fund to money the U.S. spent when the Soviet Union withdrew from its Eastern Europe satellite states. Assistance totaled $1 billion, she said.

Additionally, Clinton appealed for a waiver provision that would allow the United States to remain in any United Nations’ agencies that grant membership to a “premature” Palestinian state. Current laws prohibit the United States from doing so.

“We have very clear instructions written in our laws but some benefits do come with these memberships,” said Clinton, referring to the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).