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U of M Student Org Aims To Spur Bipartisan Action On U.S. Debt

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The Can Kicks Back

More young Americans are joining the debate on the country’s $16 trillion national debt. Some of those 20-somethings—weary of “kicking the can down the road”--are joining “The Can Kicks Back.” It’s a non-partisan group that wants to show lawmakers that young people want bipartisan action.  

MARK BASHORE:  ‘The Can Kicks Back’ wants to spur a million, one-minute conversations about the debt between each of its members and their elected national representatives. 21-year old Madelynne Wager heads the group’s University of Michigan chapter.  She says the crisis challenges her peers in three areas:  jobs, credit and competing in the global economy.  She says it’s also an issue of fairness.

MADELYNNE WAGER: I think it essentially becomes an issue of ‘Why is no one talking to us about this?’ We are the first generation---we’re not surpassing our parents on the ladder of American economic opportunity. And at the same time, we’re being handed this really crippling I.O.U.  This affects everything we could care about as young people:  the environment or education or our position in the international community.

BASHORE: Electorally, the President has enjoyed a great deal of support from college-aged people.  Should we assume then that a majority of the people you’re enlisting are more passionate about raising taxes on the wealthy than on cutting spending?

WAGER: We are strictly a bi-partisan organization catering to people who are supporters of President Obama but who (were) also Romney supporters in the last election.

You know, it’s just not the responsibility of the President—the debt—you know. It is the result of past administrations’ fiscal policies.  I’ve been very disappointed with the President in taking off a lot of things from the negotiating table.  But that’s in the same way that we’re disappointed that the GOP is doing the same thing.

It’s easy to advocate along party lines, but real leadership is going to have to make negotiations and concessions.  So young people are now here telling leaders ‘Please do this and we will support you.’

BASHORE:  So ‘The Can Kicks Back’ does not take a formal position in terms of the ‘revenue versus cuts’ debate? 

WAGER:  Right, right.  We’re not here to propose a specific piece of legislation or policy measure. We’re here to ensure that leaders know that issues matter and that we expect them to work together. It’s concessions from both sides and we have to cut back on defense spending without compromising national security, restructure the tax code to eliminate backdoor special interests, etc. So it’s not a shortage of good policy suggestions, it’s a shortage of political will.

BASHORE:  What are some of the more common responses you get, both encouraging and discouraging?

WAGER: Well I think one thing that could be most discouraging would be if young people were to already have adopted these very partisan ideologies.  But the really exciting thing is that this isn’t happening.  You know, young people are very excited to get involved.  When you speak their language, when you talk on a real level….it’s not about politics, it’s simply about us and our future and our jobs and our education. So young people are here and ready to be involved.

BASHORE:  One notable accomplishment of your group so far is you’ve managed to entice Senator Alan Simpson, a co-chair of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, to record a You Tube video in which the Senator rocks out “Gangnam style” in an endorsement of your group’s work.  Let’s listen to a bit of the Senator’s appeal.


SEN. ALAN SIMPSON:  Stop instagramming your breakfast and getting on You Tube so you can see ‘Gangnam Style’ (music) and start using those precious social media skills and go out and sign people up on this baby.  Three people a week.  Take part or get taken apart.  Boy, these old coots will clean out the Treasury before you get there. (music)

BASHORE:  These old coots!  You’ve got to love that.  Is the Senator’s video having an effect?

WAGER: We’ve already had over 110,000 views within just a few days and hundreds of new volunteers.  And I think this just goes to show just how great a job the team is doing of taking an issue like the debt—which is very complicatedly nuanced—and talking in the language of young people and getting them excited to be involved.

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