Policy Topics I: Federal Budget Policy


Units: 6


Why do we have such large budget deficits?  Why does Congress have such a hard time getting to agree on budget policy?  Why is there such pork barrel spending and government waste in Washington?

The answers to these questions, and others like them, require a detailed knowledge of the law and politics that lie behind the budget process, and the difficult policy choices that make up that process each year.

This course proceeds simultaneously along two tracks.  Track I will cover the law and procedures you need to understand how the federal budget is formulated and acted upon.  This sounds dull, but it isn’t!  For good reason, people call Congress the world’s greatest soap opera; and the budget process, while complex, is full of political warfare, the clashing of egos, and the constant pressure of voter demands.  Those who know the law and procedures can gain an advantage over others in the struggle for dollars and the way they get spent. While in this phase of the course, you will be assigned “mini-briefs”: short oral presentations on certain technical aspects of the budget.

Track II will introduce you to some of the important budget issues that have made life so difficult for Republicans and Democrats alike: working out an effective budget process, balancing the budget, funding budget priorities with limited resources, and deciding how much (and how) to tax workers and investors.  When we are working on Track II, you will develop “two-pagers,” the kinds of memoranda and statements written by congressional staff and political advisers. 

Learning Outcomes:

The overall objective of the course is to introduce you to the concepts and procedures that the players in the federal budget and appropriations process here need to know. 

More detailed learning objectives are:

  • Identify and explain the legal and regulatory underpinnings of the budget process.
  • Identify and explain the constitutional basis for the "power of the purse" and other budget-related powers granted to Congress and the president.
  • Identify and explain major budget-related issues in their political, economic and legal context.
  • Familiarize oneself with the basic documents that make up the federal budget, and how to find information within those documents.
  • Articulate in oral and written form the arguments used by political leaders regarding select budget issues.
  • Utilize one's knowledge of budget policy to develop advisory material for a Member of Congress, political appointee, lobbyist, etc.