The Can Kicks Back's advisory board includes Erskine Bowles, left,… (Mark Wilson, Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — Kicking the can down the road on the skyrocketing national debt could hurt young people more than anybody. And now they are organizing to fight back.
A new group, the Can Kicks Back, aims to give Americans 18 to 32 years old a voice in the debate over tax hikes and budget cuts that loom next year if Congress and President Obama cannot agree on a deficit-reduction plan.
"Young people are struggling in this economy, and our goal is to demonstrate how the growing national debt is impacting that problem," said Ryan Schoenike, a co-founder of the group.
Part of that effort will be sending a giant mascot character in the shape of a can to college campuses to generate support, and then to Congress to highlight the concerns of young people. The group is focusing on how the debt affects the ability of people to get a job, pay for their education and raise a family, Schoenike said.
To drive home the point, the group is highlighting the share of the national debt being shouldered by every American.
Although the U.S. national debt officially is about $16.25 trillion, the Can Kicks Back is using a much higher figure — $71 trillion — which includes unfunded liabilities such as Social Security, Medicare and government pensions.
Each person's share of that larger figure is $227,000 and rising, the group said.
The group's advisory board includes Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the former co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that developed a sweeping deficit-reduction plan.
The Can Kicks Back is working with the Campaign to Fix the Debt, an organization founded by Bowles and Simpson that also includes leading corporate chief executives.
The group is trying to build off the engagement of many young people in the presidential election and wants to launch chapters on at least 500 college campuses by the end of the 2013 spring semester.
The group's goal is to pressure Congress and the White House to agree to "a bold, balanced and bipartisan 'grand bargain' on fiscal issues" by the Fourth of July. To do that, the group wants young people to commit to making a 30-second phone call each week to a member of Congress pushing for a deficit-reduction deal.
"It's a simple act, sort of 30 seconds to save your future," Schoenike said. The group wants those calls to add up to a "million millennial minutes."
"There's such a disconnect between what we see in the real world and what happens in Washington," said Nick Troiano, the group's other co-founder.
Comments last week by Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) about their willingness to compromise on tax rates and revenues are a good sign for a possible compromise, but young people can add to the pressure to make a deal, Troiano said.