One of the nation’s premier business groups, which has played a major pro-Republican role on national issues for decades, announced a surprising change in the way it sizes up members of Congress.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce revealed that the chamber will revamp its criteria for rating and endorsing lawmakers based in part on their willingness to engage in bipartisanship.

Longtime chamber president Thomas Donohue said on Thursday that the group will attempt to end dysfunction in Washington by pushing members of Congress toward the political center.

“Governing by crisis is no way to do the nation’s business,” Donohue said in his annual address on the State of American Business. “Our leaders must responsibly fulfill their duties. Dysfunction saps confidence, threatens growth and consequently poses a threat to opportunity in this country.”

According to The Washington Times, the chamber leader said the “rocky start” to the new year in Washington has raised questions among business leaders whether Congress and the administration can accomplish basic goals such as a national infrastructure improvement plan and a resolution to the long-running debate over immigration reform. Overall, Donohue said, employers need more workers at every skill level.

Roll Call described the chamber’s new approach this way:

It marks the first major change in 40 years in how the nation’s biggest business lobby tabulates lawmakers’ support for the business community.

… The change reflects the U.S. business community’s growing frustration with a pattern of crisis governing, characterized in part by the ongoing partial government shutdown, as well as a rising populist wing in the Republican Party that has rocked long-standing political alliances, especially on such matters as trade and immigration.

While the chamber is labeled as an old-school, establishment group within the GOP, it has advocated a federal gas tax hike to fund highway improvements and a congressional pact to let the “Dreamers” – those brought to U.S. by undocumented parents – to remain in the country and gain citizenship.

The bipartisan group of moderate House members known as the “Problem Solvers Caucus” reportedly played an instrumental role in convincing the chamber to make changes in their lobbying efforts.

Josh Gottheimer, (D-New Jersey) a co-chairman of the bipartisan caucus, offered this explanation of the chamber’s changing stance: “I said, ‘You need to give more credit for those who are working across the aisle … especially in this era of divided government. I’m very pleased they recognized the importance of bipartisanship.”

Donohue obviously took heart to that advice. During his State of American Business Address, he said this: “Lawmakers should be rewarded for reaching across the aisle — not punished.”