In the United States, the frequent existence of a budget deficit is often used as a stick to convince people to agree to particular sacrifices, regardless of whether those sacrifices actually help the budget. When the deficit is particularly severe, it will cause many people to experience a fear/panic reaction that supercedes higher reasoning abilities, and they consequently are more amenable to concessions they would never make under more normal circumstances.
The 2008 financial meltdown seems almost to have been engineered for this purpose, and the Republicans have been using it in exactly that way: to argue for cuts that will not make a significant difference to the budget but that will increase the general level of chaos in the US and elsewhere, leading to more uncertainty and fear, leading to an increasingly panicked and gullible citizenry.
This manipulation seems to be coming to a head in 2011, with draconian budget cuts and accompanying anti-democratic legislation by newly-elected "Tea Party" Republican politicians at the state level leading to enormous public protest in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, among others.
At the federal level, Republican lawmakers attempted to cut funding for services such as NPR and Planned Parenthood, arguing that these were necessary in order to balance the budget. None of the items they suggested, however, were substantial portions of US discretionary spending, and they finally had to back down rather than risk a politically-damaging government shutdown.