I’ve heard the term general consent. What does it mean? How is it different than unanimous consent?
First, general consent is just another name for unanimous consent. Unanimous consent is a method used when there appears to be little opposition to a pending motion and allows the motion to be adopted without stating the question and putting the motion to a formal vote. It can also be used to take action without the formality of a motion being made from the floor. For common activities, like approval of the minutes, or granting permission to a member to finish his remarks when time is up, unanimous consent is an efficient way to expedite business.
To effect unanimous consent, The presiding officer would say, “Is there any objection to . . .” or “If there is no objection . . .” [pause]. If a single member says “I object” [or “Objection!”] , then the motion is stated and a formal vote is taken. This protect the rights of the minority. If there is no objection, then the chair would say “Since there is no objection . . .” or alternatively, “Hearing no objection . . .” and states the action to be taken.
“Unanimous consent” does not necessarily imply that every member is in favor of the proposed action; it may only mean that the opposition, feeling that it is useless to oppose or discuss the matter, simply acquiesces. Similarly, when a member responds to the chair’s inquiry, “Is there any objection . . . ?” with “I object,” he may not necessarily oppose the motion itself, but may believe that it is wise to take a formal vote under the circumstances. In other words, the objection is raised, not to the proposed action, but to the action’s being taken without a formal vote. No member should hesitate to object if he feels it is desirable to do so, but he should not object merely for dilatory purposes. If a member is uncertain of the effect of an action proposed for unanimous consent, he can call out, “I reserve the right to object,” or, “Reserving the right to object, . . . ” After brief consultation he can then object or withdraw his reservation.” RONR (11th Ed.) pp. 55
For further information see RONR (11th Ed.) pp. 54-556; 105-106; 137; 142-143; 156; 194; 254; 265; 285; 309; 343; 365; 375; 401; 476; 510-511