President Barack Obama announced "the next American project" Tuesday from the White House, speaking on a new $100 million initiative to map the human brain in hopes of finding cures for diseases like Alzheimer's and autism. The effort, which he first mentioned in his State of the Union address, is called BRAIN, for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnolgies. Obama said it's critical to unlocking still existing mysteries.
"The BRAIN initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and to better understand how we think and learn and how we remember," he said.
But the announcement for new funding, which will be included in the president's as yet unveiled 2014 budget, comes as most of Washington is focused on cutting spending. And though Republicans have often supported similar science and health research finding initiatives in the past, Obama seemed aware he would have to make the sale for his proposal in the austere environment.
"Computer chips, GPS technology, the Internet—all these things grew out of government investment and basic research," he said. "The founders of Google got their early support from the National Science Foundation. Every dollar we've spent to map the human genome has returned $140 to our economy."
Obama said it's critical to think of research as a "driver of growth."
The president also took the opportunity to criticize the automatic federal funding cuts that took effect about a month ago, called the sequester, for holding back innovation and important research.
"When our leading thinkers wonder whether it still makes sense to encourage young people to get involved in science in the first place because they aren't sure the research funding and the grants will be there to cultivate an entire new generation of scientists, that's something we should worry about," Obama said. "I don't want the next job creating discovery to happen in China or India or Germany, I want them to happen right here in the United States of America and that's part of what this BRAIN initiative is about."
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have put forth their own federal budget plans, which passed separately by partisan margins in the House and Senate but differ wildly and will not be reconciled. Obama has yet to reveal his federal spending proposal, though it's expected in the coming days.