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Federal Budget Policy (January 2018)
First published Dec 2017

Federal Budget Policy


Professor Howell E. Jackson

Harvard Law School

January 2018

Class Meeting Times:

Mondays through Fridays:  (10:00 am to 12:15 pm on January 2nd; thereafter, 9.45 am to noon)

Luncheon Talks:  1/5/17 & other dates TBD (noon to 1:00 pm; lunch will be provided)

(Note: For HKS and other students with conflicts during the third week of the term, see below the penultimate paragraph of this course overview)


January Term Classroom: Hauser 102

Office Hours: Fridays, 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm (or by appointment)

Contact Information:

Howell Jackson (, Griswold 510

Assistant: Sam Learner ( ) 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 and coordination of fiscal policies within a federal system.  We will also explore two budgeting topics that received considerable attention over the past year: cost-sharing arrangements for insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act and the Trump Administration’s efforts to promote budgeting procedures for regulatory costs.

            The class will meet for twelve sessions, starting on Tuesday, January 2nd, and continuing through Thursday, January 18th.  Starting on the second day of the term, classes will run from 9:45 am to noon each day, allowing for two hours of class time and (typically) a short break.  There will be no class on MLK Day, Monday, January 15th.  From time to time, we will have luncheon speakers:  Former CBO director and current HKS Dean Douglas Elmendorf will give a luncheon talk on Friday, January 5th.  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 for one or two independent credits. 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.

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 three interactive documents:  “2015 Federal Budget Calendar,” “2016 Federal Budget Calendar,” and “2017 Budget Calendar.”  All three documents are posted on H20 and they include extensive links to press accounts and official publications related to budget matters over the past three years.

Course Requirements and Grading

        Students enrolled in Federal Budget Policy for January 2018 will be expected to prepare for and attend all classes, unless you make separate arrangements with the instructor. The January term goes quickly and the material we cover in the course is cumulative; it is therefore important to attend classes and do readings beforehand.  For each class, there will be a core reading assignment of up to roughly 75 pages. All students should read these materials before class. For many classes, supplemental readings will also be posted to H20.  In general, these readings are optional and intended for students with particular interests in the subjects being covered that day and those on teams with related presentation topics.

Students enrolled in the course will be expected to submit two short individual reaction papers and participate in the preparation of two short team paper.  The specific assignments are posted to H20. The individual papers are due on Thursday, January 4th, and Friday, January 19th.  The team paper are due by 8:00 pm on Sunday, January 7th, and 8:00 pm on Monday, January 15th.   Students will be assigned to two 4-5 person teams; provisional assignments for the first set of teams will be posted before the first class, with adjustments to be made once course enrollments are finalized. Teams will be responsible for leading class discussions on a specific topic throughout the semester, and will be asked to prepare a few powerpoint slides on their assigned topics. Again, specific assignments will be posted to H20.   Powerpoint slides and the first individual papers should be submitted by email by 8:00 am the morning on which the topic will be discussed. The final individual paper is due by 5:00 pm on Friday, January 19th.  All papers and powerpoint slides should include the names of the students who worked on the assignments. All assignments should be emailed to Professor Jackson (at with a copy to Sam Learner (

Given differences in Winter Term schedules across the Harvard campus, a number of HKS students (and perhaps some students from other Schools) have other commitments the third week of the January Term.  That’s entirely fine, but please let both Professor Jackson and Sam Learner know by email within the first few days of classes when you will not be able to attend classes.

 Course grading will be based on written assignments (both individual and team) with a possible upward adjustment for team presentations and class participation.