GovLoop is a great forum where each of us is able to learn more about our Federal government and its operating systems. Thanks for bringing to light these great points, Peter! I also appreciate your challenge in that it's a good practice for us to step outside ourselves ever now and then and look at problems through a different set of eyes.
Even still, although Congress may not be "completely clueless" about what's going on with the 'average American', I think Denise, Janina, and Susan made good points about the benefit that comes from being more in touch with what life is like for the majority of Americans right now. When an elected official doesn't live the life (or perhaps doesn't personally know someone very well who is living the tough life right now),it's a far greater challenge to empathize with them and thereby more effectively use their positions to implant needed change.
Collaboration is Washington doesn't have to be political; it just is; and for some reason, one's ongoing livelihood in the political arena has evolved into knowing best how to negotiate the "Washingtonian Shuffle". Sometimes this tactic helps the greater good and other times it helps the greater pocketbooks. It's a crap shoot at best, but as voters we should not be so naive as to believe that our elected officials are there solely to represent our needs.
I agree in the end, that John Q. Public is the ultimate culprit here ... I personally know people who would rather jump onto what seems like the most popular bandwagon at election time rather than put forth much effort to learn about each candidate's platform before casting their ballots.
As for your payroll statistics , when we talk about Congressional Staffers, its true they receive marginal salaries at best. Staffers, however, aren't the issue here. Elected and Appointed Officials are the true movers and shakers! And, having seem them operate, up close & personal I have to say ... it's often like watching the Capone Crew make backroom deals with the Mogilevich Gang! Perhaps "normalizing" Congressional salaries (as previously suggested) and topping them out after a prescribed number of years would attract potential candidates who prefer to leave a positive legacy for their fellow Americans rather than a depletion of the public coffers.