Better late than never?  Seven months after a Congress controlled by his own party failed to produce a budget for FY2011 on time or at all, Barack Obama has decided to act to avoid a government shutdown.  Earlier today, the White House announced a summit involving John Boehner, Harry Reid, and key appropriators will take place at Obama’s end of Pennsylvania Avenue tomorrow:

President Barack Obama is summoning key lawmakers from both parties to the White House to help speed up budget negotiations and avoid a looming government shutdown at week’s end. …

Obama spokesman Jay Carney said that time was running short and the president would urge the lawmakers to reach an agreement. He said the White House was optimistic that a shutdown could be averted.

Obama has come under increasing fire for refusing to show leadership on the budget fight from both sides of the aisle.  This still may not be anything more than an attempt to cover his bases if the government does shut down.  Obama can say that he tried to offer mediation between the two sides, although he hasn’t done much publicly at all except criticize Republicans for attempting to cut all of 1.6% of the federal budget with the 40% deficit.

Bill Clinton earlier suggested that Obama should let a shutdown happen — the better to blame Republicans:

A government shutdown might not have a “traumatic” effect on the economy, former President Bill Clinton said Monday.

Clinton, who faced a shutdown during his 1995 budget negotiations with congressional Republicans, said he wasn’t sure whether President Obama was giving too much ground to the GOP in current negotiations, but suggested that a shutdown could backfire against Republicans, much as it did in the ’90s. …

“I think it could hurt the Republicans if it looks like the Democrats have a reasonable offer,” he explained.

That may be Obama’s intent in scheduling the summit tomorrow, but that’s a double-edged sword.  When Presidents make that kind of staged effort, they need something concrete as a result.  Presidents usually don’t like to leave the impression that they failed.  Shaping the battleground for a potential shutdown really only works when the crisis hasn’t resulted from an earlier political failure, too, and Republicans can and will point out that they passed a budget for FY2011 in the House in less than 90 days, something Democrats didn’t bother to do with full control in 365 days.

Even if it is a trap, though, Republicans can hardly refuse a presidential summons for a mediation session, especially not after making Obama’s lack of leadership into an issue on spending. They had better be prepared for the consequences. Speaking of which, what kind of beer would be best for a summit on the FY2011 budget? I’m thinking something dark, bitter, and with a bad finish.