SALT LAKE CITY — In the shadow of a pending government shutdown, university students gathered to listen to a bipartisan panel discuss the national debt and the role of the rising generation.

“We need to recognize we are the future of what this nation can become,” Satin Tashnizi, event director for the College Democrats of Utah, told students and audience members Monday afternoon.

Bryce Christensen, chairman of the University of Utah College Republicans echoed Tashnizi's message to students and urged them to get involved.

"We have to start to care,” Christensen said. “Realize that this is going to affect us more than anyone else. It’s us and our kids and maybe even their kids, depending on how bad we let this problem get.”

Jim Dabakis, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party and a state legislator, was part of a panel to discuss the national debt, along with Christensen, Tashnizi and Jeff Peterson, executive director for the Utah Republican Party.

“One thing that does get beyond the money and beyond the influence is a wave of constituents," Dabakis said, addressing the students. "You don’t recognize, I think, just the amount of potential and power you have to effect policy change in the state of Utah and also in Washington.”

The Travelers Institute presented the panel, as well as a showing of "Overdraft," a nonpartisan film with facts about the national debt during a stop to Utah.

The Travelers Institute teamed with The Can Kicks Back for a cross-country Generational Equity Tour, geared to educate, organize and mobilize young Americans on the national debt.

During the discussion, Dabakis said the government needs people who can sit down and discuss where cuts need to be made.

“Washington is completely incapable of that, and it’s a disgrace,” he said.

The country needs politicians “with the guts to do what needs to be done,” Dabakis said.

Republicans, he said, need to “get off the ideology high horse,” and Democrats need to change entitlements.

“The fact is, there is going to have to be tax increases,” Dabakis said.

Peterson said the national debt is shackling the county.

“At some point, though, your hands will just become so shackled to that debt that you really can’t do anything,” he said.

Before taxes are increased, ways to increase revenue should be explored, Peterson said. He suggested utilizing the nation's natural resources.

“There’s a huge mass that we’re not even tapping right now,” Peterson said.

Tashnizi said the focus needs to be on the rising generation — the ones who will have jobs, pay their taxes and pay back the current debt. She said she believes every movement begins with college students.

Kimber Brady, a senior at the University of Utah, said she came to the panel Monday to understand more about the deficit and to restore her faith in Republicans and Democrats working together.

"It's nice to see the panel here today acknowledging that," Brady said.

Samantha Chadwick, freshman at the U., said Americans need to stop building the national debt.

"I really want to see programs cut to a point where they're still running but not running as big as they're running right now," Chadwick said. "We need to cut the stuff that isn't key to the government so that we can start building back on our debt. Once we're covered on that, we can build up our programs again."

Barbara Andrade, a U. freshman, said she left the panel feeling like her generation could change the debt situation if they will just get involved, despite the problems in Washington, D.C.

"It drives me absolutely crazy that we're at the very last minute and Washington is procrastinating and procrastinating," she said of the potential government shutdown. "It's very irresponsible for our government to be doing that."

Andrade said the government needs leaders of the rising generations to start stepping up and making a difference.

Tashnizi said both parties have a common interest — they care about the country. Christensen said the panel demonstrated a bipartisan interest in the national debt discussion.

“Together we can squeeze our folks in Washington enough so that this debt problem is not something you and your children will inherit,” Dabakis added.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: EmileeEagar