The U.S. Postal Service, for both tactical and diplomatic considerations, has quietly withdrawn plans to issue more than a million embossed envelopes with 16-cent stamps on them.

At least part of the reason is because first-class postage is still only 13 cents per letter!

The USPS has asked for permission to raise the postage rate to 16 cents, but that request is still pending before the Postal Rate Commission.In the past, some critics have charged that the Commission was a bit of a marshmallow when it came to standing up to the USPS by telling it to hold the price line.

Commission officials reject the marshmallow label. They were very, very unhappy when they learned that the Postal Service was going ahead with plans to put out a 16-cent envelope. Somebody, somewhere, pushed the stop button.

POSTAGE, the insider newsletter about the mail industry, recently mentioned the 16-cent envelope sale which was due to take place March 3 in Milwaukee.

The newsletter hinted that the Postal Service was anticipating getting the green light for a 16-cent stamp, and was jumping the gun by printing up the envelopes. The Milwaukee Journal did an in-depth story on the 16-cent affair, raising eyebrows at both the Postal Service and at the Rate Commission.

End result is that the USPS has decided to put those 16-cent envelopes back on the shelf, hoping that in the process it hasn't stepped on any important toes at the Rate Commission.

Asked if this was "diplomatic withdrawal", an official said, "you could call it that."

Nobody knows that the Rate Commission will do with the 13-cent vs. 16-cent stamp issue. But, like those millions of stockpiled gas rationing coupons, and unused stores of swine flu vaccine, the envelopes are a reminder to us all that harder times are just around the corner.