MEXICO CITY – 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 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.
"One thing is clear -- 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 Obama administration said its declaration of a public health emergency was precautionary. The flu has killed 103 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."
He said that 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 pushed a proposal in his budget of making permanent a tax credit for business investment in research and development. He also touted his proposals to tackle global climate change, which face a fight in the U.S. Congress.
Obama said it was "this generation's challenge to break our dependence on fossil fuels" but acknowledged the effort will be difficult.
The Obama administration 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.