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Will Obamacare Kill a Speakership? How the GOP's CR Could Play Out

The decision to impose Hastert – named after former House Speaker Denny Hastert, an Illinois Republican who informally adopted the rule during his tenure in the 1990s – has left Boehner without an escape hatch. If he sticks to the rule, the federal government is likely to be shut down. If he reverses course, his time as speaker of the House of Representatives is likely over with back-bench conservatives wailing for his ouster.

In his defense, Boehner hasn’t received a lot of help from Senate conservatives, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who have been goading lower chamber lawmakers into standing firm against Obamacare and praising them for passing a CR to kill it. Their endeavors forced Boehner, who initially opposed any confrontation that could result in a shutdown, to change course and endorse the strategy.

Now those same Senate Republicans are saying there’s little they can do to halt the Obamacare juggernaut, although they wish House Republicans the best in their continued efforts.

Cruz on Wednesday acknowledged that Reid “will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so. At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground and continue to listen to the American people."

In some quarters, it sounded like Cruz, Lee and others were leaving Boehner holding the bag – a bag he initially didn’t even care to hold. Stung by criticism for his curious tactics, Cruz is now promising to do everything at his disposal to kill Obamacare – including staging a talking filibuster on the floor.

But the Senate may ultimately have the 60 votes necessary to overcome delaying tactics and pass a continuing resolution similar to the House measure -- sans the defunding of Obamacare.

At some point, then, Boehner will have to consider abandoning the Hastert Rule – and in all likelihood the speakership – in order to get a deal done unless he somehow convinces a majority of his caucus to go along with the Senate. Thus far during his tenure as the head of the lower chamber, Boehner hasn’t exhibited great talent for swaying wayward lawmakers unless you consider the recent vote on the agriculture appropriations bill a great triumph.

Or he can convince them to abandon the fight and take up killing Obamacare again within the next few weeks when Congress debates raising the debt limit, which could develop into yet another unstoppable force vs. immovable object showdown.