One thing Hong Kong's market-watchers can be sure of is that they are not the only ones glued to their TV sets, computer screens and morning newspapers these days. For every account-holder lining up outside Peregrine Investments, there are a hundred Americans - from the Wall Street suits down to blue-collar ordinary Joes - keeping a close eye on every new statistic coming out of Asia's crumbling economies. US interests in Asia are obvious: while American banks are not nearly as exposed to Indonesian or Korean debt as their European counterparts, there are millions of American workers whose life savings and pension funds depend in part on an imminent recovery in the region's stock markets. While US officials are cautious in their appraisal of the current problems, President Bill Clinton's former chief economic adviser, Laura Tyson, is now calling the situation 'the biggest financial crisis the world has faced since the Great Depression'. Mr Clinton has been criticised as being a trifle slow off the block in recognising the warning signs coming out of Bangkok and Jakarta in the early days of the crisis, but Washington and New York have since taken the lead in organising some multilateral therapy for the limping economies and their financial institutions. Without strong support from the US capital, the International Monetary Fund's various bailout packages would have been harder to put together. Meanwhile, the Big Apple has played host to a series of meetings between the world's top private-sector bankers, who also have to play a role in restructuring Asia's debt. Once again, therefore, we see the world's only superpower - and coincidentally its most buoyant economy - taking a crucial geo-political role in issues far from its own doorstep. It's almost like Bosnia and Somalia without the guns. This, as the White House has often found out, is something of a thankless task. In Asia, anti-Western jingoists from the Dr Mahathir Mohamad camp are already seeing in the IMF's austerity packages a covert American imperialist plot to force Asian nations into being more like them. If Asia's leaders had developed their free-market capitalism with a little less cronyism and with a touch more Western-style transparency, this crisis might never have happened - but that's another issue. And to add to the bad feeling in Asia, the Clinton administration is now coming under fire from a wide range of critics back home. Members of Congress have signalled they are getting ready to start aiming missiles at the US response to the Asian crisis as soon as they return to Washington on January 26. A rather curious coalition of right and left-wing legislators and pressure groups have joined hands in recent days to attack the administration's involvement in the bailout packages. While they have differing reasons for doing so, it all adds up to a stormy few weeks of hearings and political battles ahead for the White House. It is natural that Congress should finally have something to say. A lot of pent-up energy has been bottled up for the past two months the lawmakers have been in recess, and they have had to sit by while the president spends several billions of dollars of taxpayers' money on not terribly popular countries like Indonesia without them having a chance to state their case. On the left, many Democrats - largely those gloating from the recent victory blocking fast-track trade negotiating powers for the president - say it is wrong the US should be bailing out nations who have failed to keep their own house in order, while so many social problems in America go untouched for lack of resources. Bernie Sanders, Congress' only independent - and only self-proclaimed socialist - is far from being alone in saying that the American private banks, whose gung-ho support allegedly helped fuel the affected governments' penchant for suspect financial activity, should shoulder the entire burden of bailing them out. 'We can't afford Medicare or child care, and I find it amazing how quickly these loan packages can pass through the government, when we don't have enough money to protect the elderly and our kids,' he said. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan got to hear first-hand how similarly minded citizens feel when he was shouted down by hecklers advising him that he should be ashamed of himself - for supporting the IMF bailouts, presumably - during an appearance in Los Angeles. And from the right, prominent Republicans are equally annoyed, because they see in the IMF bailouts a betrayal of everything that is good and pure about free-market capitalism. If Asia's bad policies got them into this mess, they suggest, then let them adopt some good ones and sort out the mess themselves. Senator Lauch Faircloth put the case most eloquently this week, saying: 'The free market is no longer at work in the field of international finance. We have privatised the gains and socialised the losses.' The anger welling up on Capitol Hill could mean more than just hot air. President Clinton may well find it jeopardises his bid to appropriate another US$18.5 billion (HK$143.15 billion) for the IMF this spring. Some US$15 billion of that amount - a routine US contribution to the IMF's coffers - has already been blocked by Congress late last year, when it got tangled up in an unrelated row over funding for global family-planning campaigns. When it is debated this time round, its prospects will be no brighter. Supporters of the administration's policy point out nevertheless that it has not done a good job of explaining to lawmakers or the US public why it is so important to America that it helps Asia's sick economies recover. That may be because the prime mover behind the policy, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, is not much of a PR man. Now his faster-talking cabinet colleagues, such as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, are back from the Christmas break, it could be time for them to get involved in some timely spin control.