The argument is that since the legislators live in DC, they are insulated from a lot of the economic devastation that's happening across the country. That may be true in a visceral sense, but take a look at Calculated Risk today:
The current employment recession is by far the worst recession since WWII in percentage terms, and 2nd worst in terms of the unemployment rate (only the early '80s recession with a peak of 10.8 percent was worse).
This isn't arcane or difficult to understand. The problem isn't that politicians don't understand that the economy is in bad shape, it's that they don't understand that reducing deficits and cutting public sector pay in the middle of the worst recession in modern history is terrible policy.
The answer is to keep telling them. Will it work? We don't know. But we have to keep at it.