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Casebook Credits History Find
Federal Budget Policy (Spring 2015)
First published Jan 2015

Federal Budget Policy
Professor Howell E. Jackson
Harvard Law School
Spring 2015
Class Meeting Times: First Eight Weeks of Semester: Thursday and Fridays, 10:15 am to 11:45 am (except for 3/12 & 3/26) Last Four Weeks of Semester: Thursdays and Fridays: 10:00 am to noon
Room: Hauser 105
Office Hours: Fridays, 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm (or by appointment)
Contact Information: Howell E. Jackson (,Griswold 510
Assistant: Carole Mason (,Griswold 5 South


The goal of this course is to introduce students to federal budget policy in the United States with an emphasis on both legal structures and inter-disciplinary perspectives. The semester will begin with an overview of the history of budget for the federal government and an introduction to the components of the current federal budget. We will then examine in some detail congressional budget procedures, where the most elaborate and prominent system of budgetary procedures have been developed, albeit a system of rules that is honored as often in breach as in observance. We will next take up the Executive power of the purse in a variety of contexts, including government shutdowns and debt ceiling crisis, as well as Judicial power of the purse, including its interaction with the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity.

Having worked through the budgeting powers of the three branches of the federal government, we will next take up entitlement reform, accounting standards for government bodies, selected topics associated with budgeting in a federal system, and finally state budget practices. In addition to its substantive coverage, the course is designed to introduce students to principal sources of information on federal budgeting and leading academic perspectives on budget policy. Students will also be expected to do their own original research on current issues in federal budget policy.

During the first eight weeks of the semester, the course will meet for fourteen 90 minutes sessions during which we will work through the substantive topics outlined above. For the final four weeks of the semester, the course will meet for eight 120 minutes sessions during which students will present preliminary drafts of their research papers. A list of potential research topics are listed at the back of this syllabus. Students will be asked to choose amongst these research topics or suggest their own topics subject to Professor Jackson’s approval. In most cases, students will be encouraged to work on their research papers in pairs, although again individual assignments are possible with permission of the instructor. Course grades will be based on research papers and class participation. There will be no examination for the course.

Readings for the course will consist of a combination of distributed materials, postings on the course iSite, and readings from FISCAL CHALLENGES: AN INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH TO BUDGET POLICY (2008) (Elizabeth Garrett, et al. eds.), and ALLEN SCHICK: THE FEDERAL BUDGET: POLITICS, POLICY AND PROCESS (3rd ed. 2007). Both books are recommended for the course and should be available at the Harvard Coop. Copies should also be on reserve for the course in Langdell Library. Additional readings are available via the H2O distribution system, which is linked to the course iSite under Course materials. From time to time, students will also be asked to review selections from the Harvard Law School Briefing Papers on Federal Budget Policy (avail. at These briefing papers are primarily the work of HLS students enrolled in earlier iterations of this course, and are illustrative of the kinds of research papers that students in this year’s course will be expected to produce.