WITH DEADLINE NEAR, POTUS WORKS THE PHONES…. For the last couple of weeks, the White House has been deeply engaged in budget negotiations, but not quite at the presidential level. Vice President Biden and Budget Director Jacob Lew have been the officials at the negotiating table, not President Obama.

Yesterday, that started to change.

As the budget stalemate lingered, President Obama reached out Saturday to House Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, urging them to reach a resolution that would avoid a government shutdown, the White House said.

In separate phone calls, the president told Boehner (R-Ohio) and Reid (D-Nev.) that a closure would be harmful “to our economic recovery,” according to a description of the conversation released by the White House.

The announcement of the president’s direct intervention marked a slight shift in White House strategy in the fight over a plan to fund the government for the rest of 2011.

By all accounts, the calls were intended as a way to stress the gravity of the situation, not to reach any specific agreements over budget details. Policymakers have literally just a few days to work something out, and the president perhaps hoped his intervention would give the negotiations a bit of a push.

It also offered Obama a chance to remind the House and Senate leaders that, as far as the White House is concerned, Republican demands for a series of policy “riders” aren’t going to work as part of a bipartisan deal. As the AP put it, citing a White House account, the president will oppose using the budget process to “further an ideological agenda” by pursuing issues that aren’t related to reducing spending or the deficit.

And why hasn’t Obama been directly involved in the talks up until now? Part of it is because he’s left the negotiations in capable hands, but there’s an even more important angle to keep in mind. It’s counterintuitive, but the president may realize progress is more likely if he keeps his distance.

Why? Because Republicans’ hatred of him is just that hysterical.

The coming days represent a crucial stage in the negotiations if both sides are to avert a government shutdown. Last week, Vice President Joe Biden played a role in keeping the talks on track after a session broke up in acrimony. But he has been trying to keep a low profile, said one Democrat familiar with the negotiations, out of concern that Republicans would rather not be seen as making a deal with the White House.

Since so much of the GOP has decided that Obama is evil incarnate, the more the president takes a hands-on role, the less willing Republicans are to negotiate. If Biden’s role has to be low-key for fear of making it look like the GOP is compromising with the administration, Obama really has to keep his distance.

It’s not healthy, and it’s not rational, but it’s the state of Republican politics in 2011.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.