President Obama Cites Swine Flu Outbreak As Reason for More Investment into Science Research

ABC News' Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:

President Obama this morning said that the swine flu outbreak is “cause for concern” but “not a cause for alarm.”

In remarks before the National Academy of Sciences President Obama said that he is closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the U.S and that the Public Health Emergency was declared as a “precautionary tool” to ensure necessary resources are at the disposal of the government. 

“I’m getting regular updates on the situation from the responsible agencies, and the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control will be offering regular updates to the American people so that they know what steps are being taken and what steps they may need to take,” Obama said today, “But 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.  And this is one more example of why we cannot allow our nation to fall behind.”

President Obama’s remarks – which were previously scheduled before the outbreak of the swine flu – focused on the necessary investments into science and research, and faulted not only the Bush administration for the plunging levels of science funding as a portion of the GDP, but, presumably, farther back to the Reagan years as well.

“Federal funding in the physical sciences as a portion of our gross domestic product has fallen by nearly half over the past quarter century. Time and again we’ve allowed the research and experimentation tax credit, which helps businesses grow and innovate, to lapse…. And we have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas.”

Going back a quarter century -- to 1984 -- indeed shows that federal sciences funding as a percentage of the gross domestic product has gone down.

But the pictures is far more complex than just a line sloping down from President Reagan to President Bush.

Truth is, since peaking in 1964, federal funding on sciences as a percentage of GDP has gone down under every President, Democratic or Republican, except for Ronald Reagan.

Federal sciences funding as a percentage of GDP* started increasing significantly under President Eisenhower, from .73% in 1953 to more than double that percentage 1.69% in 1960. Funding as a percentage of GDP peaked in 1964, at 1.92 percent under then-President Lyndon Johnson (no doubt with heavy input from his predecessor, President John F. Kennedy,as budgets are set a year prior)

The spending level was was 1.64% of GDP in President Johnson's last year in office, 1968.

It went down slightly under President Richard Nixon, from 1.55% in 1969 to 1.15% in 1974; and down to 1.11% in President Gerald Ford's last year in office, 1976. Funding went down from 1.09% in President Jimmy Carters first year in office, 1977, to 1.07% in 1980.

But the number fluctuated a great deal under President Ronald Reagan -- starting at 1.08% in 1981, peaking at 1.25% in 1985, and ending with a net increase in 1988 at 1.18%.

Funding proceeded to decrease agani under President George H.W. Bush (1.10% in 1989, 0.96% in 1992); President Bill Clinton (0.91% in 1993 to 0.68% in 2000); and President George W. Bush (0.72% in 2001, peaking in 2003 and 2004 at 0.76%, and lessening to 0.71% in 2007, the last year for which statistics were available.)

President Obama promised new investment into research and development by both public and private investments, calling for the US to surpass its record investment in 1964 at the height of the space race.

“I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than three percent of our GDP to research and development,” President Obama said.

The President outlined policies that his administration is making that will invest in basic and applied research and create new incentives for private innovation, spurring breakthroughs in energy and medicine and calling for improvement in math and science education.

In addition to investments through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Obama outlined parts of his budget proposal –included in passed versions in the House and Senate – which doubles the budget of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

“We know that a nation’s potential for scientific discovery is defined by the tools it makes available to its researchers,” Obama said and then added, “But the renewed commitment of our nation will not be driven by government investment alone. It is a commitment that extends from the laboratory to the marketplace. That is why my budget makes the research and experimentation tax credit permanent.”

The president said this tax credit will return two dollars to the economy for every dollar spent to make it possible for companies to afford the high costs of new developments.

Obama also announced his funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy to do “high-risk, high-reward” research and the appointment of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to advise his administration about strategies to “nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation.”

“At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science. That support for research is somehow a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been.”

The president said that the pursuit of discovery a half century ago fueled prosperity and success – and the commitments that he is making today – he hopes – will fuel the nation’s success for another fifty years.

--Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

* from "Gross domestic product and research and development (federally funded, nonfederal, and total): 1953–2007"; from Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2008, and National Science Foundation, Science Resources Statistics, special tabulations, 2008.

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