June 24, 2017

Principles & Priorities

Principles & Priorities is an interactive exercise in which participants learn how difficult it is to balance the federal budget. Constituents working in groups of five to ten review current tax and spending policies, suggest priorities for the future, and apply their personal principles throughout the exercise. The online version of Principles & Priorities is called the Federal Budget Challenge.

By considering issues such as federal spending priorities, tax policy, and entitlement reform, participants gain firsthand experience addressing the difficult issues facing policymakers in today's fiscal environment. Ultimately, participants form a budget plan to put America on a sound fiscal foundation for the next several years. Principles & Priorities concludes with a wrap-up discussion of the results from each group and the lessons learned from the exercise.

Principles & Priorities can be used by groups ranging in size from eight to two hundred and is an entertaining way for virtually any audience, from college or high school students to civic groups and congressional constituents, to learn about the federal budget. 

LEARNING OBJECTIVES: The Concord Coalition has developed Principles & Priorities to provide participants with a better understanding of the federal budget and a realistic insight into how some of the policy proposals in the news would change the operations of the federal government.

This exercise is designed to enable participants to consider the following:

  • What is the current composition of the federal budget? How are taxes spent and who pays for them?
  • What options are being considered to change the federal budget, strengthen the economy, and improve our quality of life?
  • What kind of political compromises will be required of our political leaders to change or even to maintain current federal budget priorities?


  1. Access this exercise with the link above.
  2. Invite a Concord Coalition field representative to conduct this exercise with your group or classroom.
  3. Learn how to personally conduct this exercise with groups in your community.


Participant Reaction

As a part of the Principles & Priorities exercises, we asked participants and moderators to evaluate the exercise. Below are some of the comments that were provided. Some comments were taken from questionnaires provided at the conclusion of each exercise.

"The students loved it! You added a great dose of reality and perspective to the class. . .I think they now appreciate more about the challenges legislators face and the difficulties and opportunities presented by budget issues."-- Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

"I absolutely loved it. . .Best class since school started. This has to be one of the greatest exercises I have ever participated in. I love having power to change laws. . ." -- St. Louis University Participant

"Thank you for coming to USD! I think we all, as graduate students, benefited from this exercise."-- University of South Dakota Graduate Student Participant

"It was very fun. I learned a lot that I didn't know before." --University of South Dakota Political Science League Participant

"This seminar was a good experience for my group." -- Anderson University Participant

"It was perfect complement to the LEAD program and the students really enjoyed it." Harris School of Public Policy Professor (Graduate Program at the University of Chicago)

"Interesting and Enjoyable."-- Georgetown University Participant

"The freshmen in this seminar enjoyed participating in this exercise and learned a substantial amount about the U.S. budgetary process.."-- St. Louis University Professor of Political Science

"My class consists of 24 selected juniors in an honors class. . .They enjoyed the simulation and learned a great deal. I look forward to using your exercise again, and I thank you for your efforts to promote both public understanding and the public interest."-- Rutgers University Professor of Political Science