GIVING POTUS A LITTLE LEEWAY (BUT ONLY A LITTLE)…. At yesterday’s impromptu White House press conference, a reporter asked President Obama if he could “respond to the budget plan that the House Republicans unveiled today.” Obama largely took a pass.

“[W]e’ll have time to have a long discussion about next year’s budget, as well as the long-term debt and deficit issues, where we’re going to have some very tough negotiations,” he said.

A few hours later, WH Press Secretary Jay Carney went a little further. After tepid praise for the GOP plan’s goals related to deficit reduction, the White House statement said, “Any plan to reduce our deficit must reflect the American values of fairness and shared sacrifice. Congressman Ryan’s plan fails this test. It cuts taxes for millionaires and special interests while placing a greater burden on seniors who depend on Medicare or live in nursing homes, families struggling with a child who has serious disabilities, workers who have lost their health care coverage, and students and their families who rely on Pell grants.”

That’s good, but I think it’s safe to say many of the left are looking for a far more spirited fight. Greg Sargent noted this morning “the left’s increasing frustration with Obama’s absenteeism.”

When it suits him, Obama has proven willing and able to take on big arguments with a level of ambition and seriousness of purpose that suits his status as one of the leading public communicators of our time. Republicans are initiating an argument over the role of government and the nature of our national social contract that demands — and provides an opening for — a big response. Will Obama deliver?

There’s no shortage of lefties asking this question. Dionne, Meyerson, and Drum have pressed the point in recent days, and I had an item on Monday explaining that this is an opportunity for Democrats, and it’s incumbent on President Obama to lead the charge.

But here’s the reason I’m inclined to be patient: first things first.

We are, unfortunately, still fighting over the details of last year’s budget. Indeed, as everyone now knows, it’s extremely likely the federal government will shut down the day after tomorrow, and it’s a problem the White House is trying to avoid.

When it comes to the new House Republican budget plan, its radicalism, and its intention to eliminate Medicare, I have high expectations for the president and his team. I want to see a forceful, unapologetic response. I want a hearty defense of government. I want officials explaining why Paul Ryan’s plan is dangerous and ridiculous. I want Democrats drawing lines in the sand, vowing to never go along with such extremism.

But if Obama and his team want to figure out a way to avoid a government shutdown, and go on offensive over the new GOP budget plan next week instead of this week, I’m OK with waiting.

Steve Benen

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.