It was shaping up as "Mr. Schaefer Goes to Washington." But before Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer got his chance to take on the State Department, Washington canceled his show.

Until yesterday morning, Schaefer was scheduled to be the star attraction -- in fact, the only attraction -- at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing today. The subject: Schaefer's own foreign policy initiative, a $1.4 million-a-year plan to create business ties between Maryland and Eastern Europe.

Schaefer has tried to sell the idea to federal officials before, but left a May meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger so frustrated he could barely speak. He was hoping to do better -- and perhaps shake some money out of the State Department -- with his remarks to the subcommittee.

But before Schaefer could explain his proposal for a "Maryland Regional Training Center" in Lodz, Poland, subcommittee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) canceled the hearing.

A staff member said yesterday the problem was a "scheduling conflict."

It also happens, however, that Biden recently settled a long-standing dispute with Eagleburger over a proposed financial aid package for Eastern Europe. And the two agreed not to earmark any money for specific programs such as Schaefer's center in Lodz.

Aides to both Biden and Schaefer expressed polite regrets yesterday. But a Schaefer spokesman made clear that neither the governor nor his proposal is going away.

"Ideally, federal funds will be available for the project," said Schaefer press secretary Paul Schurick. "But the governor is committed to this plan and is committed to making it work with or without the federal government." Schaefer has said he will look for state money for the program, and perhaps seek additional money from private businesses.

Schaefer "wanted another opportunity to promote the plan, and he felt the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was the proper venue for that," Schurick said.

"He is not happy about losing the opportunity . . . . But Governor Schaefer has been to Washington before, and he will be in Washington again," Schurick said.

John Rich, a Biden aide, said that Biden "had gone out of his way to try to provide Governor Schaefer with a platform for talking about the role of the states {in Eastern Europe}, and he is regretful he is not able to provide it . . . . Governor Schaefer has had an effect on the {aid} program."

Rich said that although proposed foreign aid legislation sets aside no money for programs such as Schaefer's, state governments will be able to compete with other organizations that hope to set up business centers in Eastern Europe.

Schaefer's proposal, which he unveiled after a trade mission to countries emerging from communist domination, includes a center in Poland that would teach management techniques, scholarships for Eastern Europeans at Maryland colleges and an exchange of scholars by the universities of Maryland and Warsaw.

Schurick said that the program is designed to open new markets for Maryland businesses, but also acknowledged that Schaefer "feels a moral obligation to help these emerging democracies. We told them to do things the American way, and now we have a moral obligation to help them."