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Casebook Credits History Find
Federal Budget Policy (January 2017)
First published Dec 2016

Federal Budget Policy
Professor Howell E. Jackson
Harvard Law School
January 2017
Class Meeting Times:M-F, 9:30 am to 11:45 am 
Room: Hauser 104
Office Hours: Fridays, 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm (or by appointment)
Contact Information: Howell E. Jackson (, Griswold 510
Assistant: Lauren Semrau (,Griswold 5 South


The goal of this course is to introduce students to the law and practice of budgeting in the United States. We will start with an exploration of the basic structure of the federal budget process, including the President's budget and congressional budgeting procedures that are supposed to govern federal spending. We will then examine in greater detail the roles of all three branches of federal government in setting budget policy in the United States, discussing government shut-downs, debt ceiling crises, and ongoing debates over budget reforms and fiscal challenges. The course will also take up the budgeting of entitlements, federal credit programs, and infrastructure spending.  Depending on student interest, we also spend class time on military spending and federal-state relations in budget policy.    

The class will meet for twelve sessions, starting on Tuesday, January 3rd, and continuing through Thursday, January 19th. Class will run from 9:30 am until roughly 11:45 am, allowing for two hours of class time and (typically) a short break.  There will be no class on MLK Day, Monday, January 16th.  On two days, we will have luncheon speakers:  Former CBO director and current HKS Dean Douglas Elmendorf will give a luncheon talk on Friday, January 6th, and James Musser, who has for many years been a senior congressional aide working on budget issues and most recently senior adviser to Representative Tom Price, Chairman of the House Committee on the Budget, will give a luncheon talk on Thursday, January 12th.    Luncheon talks will run from noon to 1:00 pm and box lunches will be provided.    

Students interested in doing research on budget policy can sign up to write research papers in the Spring Term extension of the course. Research paper topics should be arranged with permission of the instructor and can address a wide range of issues related to budget policy, focusing on issues of current interest, including proposals for reforming budget policy. A list of illustrative research topics appears below.    

Readings for the course will consist of a combination of distributed materials, postings on the course's Canvas website, via the H2O link (, and readings from Fiscal Challenges: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Budget Policy (2008) (Elizabeth Garrett, et al. eds.).  For additional background, Allen Schick: The Federal Budget: Politics, Policy and Process (3rd ed. 2007) is a useful reference. Both books should be available at the Harvard Coop. Copies will also be on reserve for the course in Langdell Library. 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 Harvard students enrolled in earlier versions of this course, and are illustrative of the kinds of research papers students might undertake in the Spring Term.    

A final source of background materials for the course are two interactive documents:  2015 Federal Budget Calendar” and 2016 Federal Budget Calendar.  Both documents are posted on H20 and they include extensive links to press accounts and official publications related to budget matters over the past two years.