Should conservatives support a balanced budget amendment?
I don't think so. To understand why , let's review some history.
Beginning with the Eisenhower era, budget compromises were always hammered out. Defense suffered some in that, but there were plenty of strong defense, conservative Democrats that kept things reasonable. With the coming of Johnson's Great Society, however, dramatic shifts began. Strong defense democrats like John Stennis, Scoop Jackson, Mike Mansfield and Jack Kennedy, retired, passed away or were pushed aside, as the Viet Nam war turned the Democratic Party pacifist.
The compromises made to balance the annual budget among various government priorities moved strongly away from defense to a growing variety of social programs.
This continued under Nixon and Carter. The CIA was almost destroyed by Senator Church, while the overall defense budget was dismantled, as Republicans made cuts to keep the budget balanced.
However, a new theory emerged as Regan was elected. I attribute it to Irving Kristol (late father of conservative writer Bill Kristol). Mr. Kristol recommended that Republicans stop yielding and cutting defense, but rather advance all the defense programs they deemed appropriate and thereby force Democrats to retreat on new or expanded social programs. Regan expanded military spending dramatically, and with the U.S. far superior market-based economy, placed the USSR in an unmanageable position: they simply couldn't match the U.S. spending. The downside, however, was that Dem's didn't compromise at all on social programs - they continued to vote them through. So spending restraint was abandoned by both sides. Regan's Director of Office of Management and Budget - David Stockman - thought he had a deal with the Dem's. However, he got rolled like a drunk college boy on Saturday night in Nuevo Laredo. The result, if one remembers, was Stockman's lament: deficits as far as the eye can see.
So now it is 2011, and lots of conservatives think that a balanced budget is their last hope. A forced diet for fat guys who can't seem to grasp the concepts of eat less and exercise more. It almost sounds good.
But what would have happened a scant 18 months ago when the Dem's controlled both houses and the White House, if a balanced budget would have been required? Would one conclude that they would have slashed social programs to preserve defense and balance the budget? I think not.
Unless you believe that Conservatives will control at least one wing of government in perpetuity, supporting a balanced budget amendment seems very risky to me.