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Winter 2021 Course

Federal Budget Policy

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam. Students enrolled in the course will be expected to submit a series of reaction papers to daily assignments, some of which will be team reaction papers.

The goal of this course is to introduce students to the law and practice of government budgeting in the United States. Students will be introduced to the basic structure of the federal budget process, including the President’s Budget and Congressional budget procedures.  We will explore the roles of all three branches of federal government in setting budget policy in the United States, covering government shut-downs, debt ceiling crises, continuing resolutions, and ongoing debates over budget reforms and fiscal challenges.  Based on student interest, we may also take up entitlement reform, defense spending, budgeting for infrastructure as well as topics related to state budgeting practices and federal-state relations in budget policy.

Readings will be from Fiscal Challenges: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Budget Policy (2007) (Howell Jackson, et al., eds.) and additional distributed materials.

In order to accommodate scheduling requirements for students from different parts of Harvard University, class sessions will take place during the first two weeks of the January Term, with nine two-hour classes in the mornings, one two-hour afternoon session early in the first week of classes, and roughly four luncheon presentations with outside experts. Students from across the University are welcome to enroll.

Students interested in writing a research paper on budget policy can sign up to write such a paper for independent credit in the Spring semester. Research topics should be arranged with permission of the instructor. Examples of student papers from past years are available at