A postal regulatory commission recommended a 2-cent increase in the cost of mailing a letter Monday and urged the Post Office to introduce a "forever" stamp valid for first-class postage even when rates rise.

The recommendation to increase postage to 41 cents was a penny less than the postal service had requested.

The commission recommended a 26-cent rate for post cards, also a penny less than the Post Office had sought.

The first ounce of a first-class mail would rise to 41 cents, but each additional ounce would cost 17 cents under the proposal. Currently, each additional ounce of first-class mail costs 24 cents.

The matter now goes back to the Board of Governors of the Postal Service for a decision on whether to accept the recommendation or ask the commission to reconsider. If the governors accept the recommendations the new rates could be implemented in 60 days.

A key part of the plan is the so-called forever stamp, which would allow consumers to hedge against future rate increases.

The stamp, which would not show a denomination, would sell for the first-class rate at the time of purchase and would remain valid for mailing permanently, even if rates increase.

That means folks who stocked up on forever stamps could say goodbye to those annoying 2-cent or 3-cent stamps that have to be added to letters every time rates go up.

For the average consumer, the most visible change would be the proposed increase to 42 cents for mailing letters, although the broad-ranging rate proposal covers a multitude of types of mail.

Letters, cards, bill payments and other first-class mail items have been declining in recent years as people turn to the Internet. At the same time, there has been an increase in advertising mail.

And Postmaster General John E. Potter has pointed out that "the Postal Service is not immune to the cost pressures affecting every household and business in America."

For example, each penny increase in the price of a gallon of gasoline costs the post office $8 million, and the post office cannot simply add a fuel surcharge to its rates.

Proposed rate changes included:

—Express Mail, flat rate up from $14.40 to $16.25.

—Two-ounce barcoded bank statement, down from 54.5 cents to 48.6 cents

—Bulk-mailed weekly newsmagazine, up from 17.9 cents to 20 cents.

—Presorted catalog, up from 32.1 cents to 33.6 cents.

—Postcard, up from 24 cents to 27 cents.

The cost of a first-class stamp went from 37 cents to 39 cents in January 2006. Before that, the price had been unchanged since 2002.