April 27, 2009 / 3:53 PM / in 10 years

UPDATE 2-Flu cases show need for science spending -Obama

* Flu is “no cause for alarm,” says Obama

* Health emergency a precaution

(Adds more details, background)

By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON, April 27 (Reuters) - The outbreak of a flu virus that has led to a U.S. public health emergency highlights the need for a strong government commitment to scientific research, President Barack Obama said on Monday.

During remarks on science and technology that covered topics from climate change to the public-school curriculum, Obama set a goal of devoting 3 percent of gross domestic product to scientific research.

“If there was ever a day that reminded us of our shared stake in science and research, it’s today,” Obama said in a speech to the National Academy of Sciences, a society of scientists and engineers who give advice to U.S. policymakers.

“Our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community,” Obama said. “And this is one more example of why we cannot allow our nation to fall behind.”

Obama said that U.S. cases of swine flu were “not a cause for alarm” but the administration was monitoring them closely.

The administration said its declaration of a public health emergency was precautionary. The flu has killed 149 people in Mexico and spread to North America and Europe. Though no one outside of Mexico has died, pandemic fears have been raised.

Obama invoked the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s as an example of the importance of a major investment in research, and said science spending as a share of GDP has declined since that “high water mark.”

Through the goal of spending more than 3 percent of GDP on science, “we will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race,” Obama said.

The goal refers to public and private spending. The United States now spends 2.66 percent of gross domestic product on research and development, according to the White House.

Some of the increased spending is included in the $787 billion economic stimulus package that Obama signed in February.

In his proposed fiscal 2010 budget, Obama called for making permanent tax credits for business investment in research and development.

The science speech comes as the White House is trying to highlight Obama’s accomplishments with the approach of the 100-day mark for his presidency on Wednesday.

He also touted his proposals to tackle global climate change, which face a fight in the U.S. Congress, saying it was “this generation’s challenge to break our dependence on fossil fuels.”

The administration on Monday also opened a two-day meeting of major world economies on climate change.

Obama wants to cut U.S. emissions by roughly 15 percent by 2020 — back to 1990 levels — mostly through a cap-and-trade system that limits how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases big factories can emit.

That proposal is at the heart of a bill under consideration in Congress.

Republicans have criticized the cap-and-trade system as a backhanded energy tax. Some moderate Democrats are also worried about the impact of the plan on jobs and the economy.

Reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Alan Elsner

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